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NCL Pearl - Partial Transit of the Panama Canal - December 8 -> 19, 2016 Wednesday, December 7 - Travel Day Before I start reviewing the cruise, I thought you would like to know a little about the person writing this. This is my 31st cruise. This will be my third NCL cruise and my first on the Pearl. My other two NCL cruises was an October 2005 cruise on the NCL Star to the Mexican Riviera and the maiden voyage of the NCL Jade, which was a full transit of the Panama Canal. This time I am only doing a partial transit of the Panama Canal. I am platinum on Carnival and Diamond Plus on Royal Caribbean (second highest level on both lines). I also have three cruises on Princess (plus two more booked) and one cruise on the Universe Explorer (that ship no longer exists). There is a little story of how I ended up on this cruises. Originally I was set to go on this cruise in January 2017. The January cruise is similar to this cruise except it was ten nights and I actually liked that itinerary better. But then that cruise was chartered by the Trekkies, so I moved to this cruise. This is an eleven-night cruise and it cost $2,200 less. I am getting an extra night for more than 25 percent less than the cost of the January cruise. So I guess I cannot complain too much. I am in a forward facing suite with a large forward facing balcony that also has a large overhang (which is good in case it rains). So while everyone else is pushing and shoving for a space on the rail (while we are in the Panama Canal), I’ll have my own private forward facing space at the rail and I will not lose it if I have to go to the bathroom or if I get hungry. And it is a suite. NCL does suites better than Carnival or Royal Caribbean (I have not been in a suite on Princess). When I am not going through the Panama Canal, I normally book a balcony cabin. However, I have been in an inside, an ocean view, a balcony (both side facing and rear facing) and suites (once on Carnival, twice on Royal Caribbean and this will be my second time on NCL). This will be my first eleven-night cruise, which means I have now been on a three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, and fourteen night cruise. So here I am in beautiful downtown LAX. I’m through security, there are two hours until my flight leaves and I’m in the Admiral’s club typing on my computer. Because people wanted more details in the review, I have started creating my review while on the cruise, when things are fresher in my mind. The people also like to see lots of pictures. I hope to satisfy that also. Because of the rude dispatchers and unreliable service, I have given up on taxis for scheduled service. I use taxis for unscheduled service such as the airport to hotel and hotel to ship, but for home to the airport I am using a limo. It is not as expensive as it sounds. I am not paying for parking by driving my own car and using a taxi to go all the way to LAX would cost more than the limo. Going home, I’m going to try Super Shuttle again. I was very happy with their service last time. I was very unhappy with Prime Time’s service last time, so I will not use them again. My other option is the FlyAway Bus. The problem is one can wait awhile for it to show up and sometimes it is full. Thus, it is not a good option for terminals six and seven (American Airlines is in terminal four). Well, enough about me, let’s start the vacation. Once the alarm goes off, I turn on my cell phone and I have a text from the limo company with information on how to contact the drive. I call him and everything is all set. He should be here in fifty minutes. It took him fifty-five minutes. First time ever a limo driver has been late. Then he heads off to a different freeway. I’m not paying by the mile but still, I suggest the freeway behind us would be shorter. He says he is dodging traffic. Even in Los Angeles the traffic is not that bad at 4:45am. I know the route he is taking. The way he is going, he will have to exit the freeway and take a short drive on the surface streets to get to the proper freeway. If he does that I’ll remain silent. Otherwise, we are going to end up on the wrong side of town. The limo is prepaid, so he cannot be trying to run up the meter. He does take the correct exit and then does get on the correct freeway. However, he did not seem too familiar with the route. A new driver? So, what else can I say? This time I have a much better camera that I am going to use and I have a very wide angle lens. In 2008 when I did the full transit I had a good point and shoot camera. Now I have a very good DSLR with very wide lens, so I’m hoping to get better pictures this time. The DSLR is of course a high quality camera and will produce better quality pictures than a point and shoot camera will. In addition, the lens is capable of taking in as much information as four photographs from the point and shoot, thus also creating a better picture then stitching the four point and shoot photographs together. In addition to the DSLR I have a point and shoot camera for off the ship. The DSLR is big and heavy and the point and shoot camera is light and fits in my pocket. I also have a waterproof camera for, wait for it ... taking pictures under water. Bet you didn’t see that coming. Well, I’ve written about as much as I can, given my trip has barely started. So I’m going to put the computer away for now. The next time we chat I should be in Miami. This will be the first time I’ve departed from Miami in a non-Royal Caribbean ship. My full transit cruise did end in Miami, so I have departed from an NCL ship in Miami before. Good evening from beautiful downtown Miami. Nothing exciting happened during the flight, which is a very good thing when discussing flying. I was surprised that the taxi was not a flat rate, since it has been before. But the total ended up less than $34 with tip, which is what I was expecting. I’ll have to check to see if Miami Airport to downtown is still listed as a flat rate on the websites. I’m home now and the flat rate is still listed on the Miami taxi websites. However, with tip, it comes out the same. I’m staying in the Holiday Inn across the street from the Bayside Marketplace. Great location, except the hotel is not tall enough. I may not be able to see the ship from the hotel. I’ve stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel twice before. It is tall enough to see the ships on the other side of the roadway. However, though the Intercontinental is only as short walk to the Bayside Marketplace, the Holiday Inn is literally across the street from the Bayside Marketplace. In addition, being closer to the cruise docks means the taxi fare to the ship will be less. In fact, if I was going to Royal Caribbean, I could walk there, if the roadway had a sidewalk. Due to lack of sleep the night before, I was tired. I went to the Bayside Marketplace and had dinner there. I have a very nice room at the Holiday Inn. When I made the reservation I was offered a discount if I joined some club which was free. Normally I don’t do this because I know they are after my email address. But the discount was significant and they have not spammed me (yet), so I am happy. An added plus is, I also get the best available room. It is a nice room, with separate sitting and sleeping rooms (yes, this is a two room suite) and the sitting room has a wet bar with a mini refrigerator. I am happy. I am also tired, so I’ll be back at you in the morning. Thursday, December 8 - Embarkation Day When I first entered the room, the thermostat was set for 66 degrees. Fine with me. Well, do you know what happens when you have warm moist air and cold glass? You end up with condensation. I woke up at about 5:30am and all the windows were covered with drops of water. I’ll have to wait until the sun comes up before I’ll be able to see outside. Given that, I decide to sleep in. Finally around 10:00am I decide I better get moving if I want to be at the pier by 11:00am (which I do). I shower and dress and head out the door. Normally I do not eat breakfast, and since lunch is free, I decide to skip breakfast today also. The taxi is fifteen dollars but the driver claims he does not accept credit cards. Okay, I’ve got a twenty that is not part of my cruise money. I brought $400 for spending and two-hundred dollars for extra tips (I have pre-paid the standard daily service charge). Fifteen dollars plus twenty percent is eighteen dollars, leaving me with two dollars to bribe the porters with. The tip money is for the concierge and the butler. Because I am in a suite I have a bunch of packages, including pre-paid service charge (tips), a drink package, a dinner package (for the extra cost restaurants, but not for the extra cost items in the free restaurants), 250 minutes of Internet use, and I have onboard credit (or so I thought). The pre-paid tips does not include the butler or the concierge. Given all the packages I have, I am wondering what I’m going to spend the onboard credit on (I ended up spending over $276, so I would have used up the on board credit – if I had any)? In fact, if I was not in a suite, I could go the entire cruise and have a zero onboard bill at the end, if I wanted to. Of course, if I were not in a suite, I would not have all these free packages, so I guess either way, I’m going to end up owing something. At any rate, I’m at the pier at 11:10am and on the ship before 11:30am. One of the suite perks includes priority check in. Other perks includes a special place for breakfast and lunch. I enjoyed this perk with Royal Caribbean, so I am looking forward to it here on NCL. Now normally once I board the ship I go to my cabin and drop off my carry-on luggage. But here we are escorted to the special lounge where we can have our special breakfast and lunch, starting with today’s lunch. I opt for the cheese burger because I want to go out and start taking pictures. I usually take picture first and eat when the cabins become available. But they trapped me this time. Given the delay in picture taking, the rain late in the afternoon, and the early muster drill (3:15pm) I don’t get all the pictures I wanted. However, the next two days are days at sea, so I still have time for more pictures. One thing I did find out, which surprised me, is that there is no water slide. Not a big deal, but I thought all the NCL ships had a water slide (I have since seen an older picture of the NCL Pearl and it used to have a water slide). The little kids (and I do mean little - no one old enough to go to school would be interested) pool area leaves a lot to be desired (even if you just turned three yesterday). However, unique to NCL (as far as I know) is that there is a bowling alley (which rumor has it that it will be removed during the dry dock next year). Being in a suite, NCL mailed me some priority luggage tags. So naturally I am one of the last to get my luggage. My luggage arrived after the muster drill was over. Fortunately my muster station was in the Stardust Theater, so I didn’t have to stand out in the heat, humidity, and rain. This is not a suite perk, there are ten different muster stations in the Stardust Theater, for about nine-hundred passengers (about 35 percent of all the passengers onboard). The muster drill was short and painless, mostly consisting of how to put on a life vest. Many first time cruisers have never done this before, so it is important. I’m still trying to figure out how many people that can afford to fly don’t know how to operate a seatbelt. Because it is raining, the sail-away has been moved to the Spinnaker Lounge. This is where our roll call group decided to meet if it rained. I decided that if half the ship was going to show up, I would wait a while. So I did go, but I didn’t meet everyone since by the time I arrived, most were gone. Not really a big deal, since we are all meeting for a Meet and Greet tomorrow. At the sail-away I ordered my first drink. I got charged full price. I decided to go to guest services and see what I did wrong. The line was long, so I decided to come back later. Turns out they give me a receipt for the full price, but only charge me the local tax. We were not in port, but we were still in US waters, so I got charged eighty cents tax. After the sail-away I went back to my cabin and relaxed until 8:30pm. I had peeked at the menu for one of the free (included) restaurants and it included an eighteen ounce bone in rib eye steak. When I got to the restaurant (Indigo) I was seated right away. I looked over the menu and noticed everything under the classic heading was high end. On Royal Caribbean the classic menu is the everyday menu. On NCL it is the optional extra cost items in the free (apparently not included) restaurant. It also is not covered by the dinner package which I have. No matter, I got it anyway. None of the appetizers looked enticing, so I asked to have the grilled shrimp (which was free) as an appetizer. I skipped the desert. After dinner I met up with one of the people from the roll call that I saw at the sail-away in the guest services line. We had a nice chat, basically discussing why we were at guest services. He had four bottles of an adult beverage and I think was charged twice and they kept his bag. They gave him his bag back after dinner, and he had the receipt to show he paid the corkage fee (fifteen dollars per bottle or sixty dollars for four bottles). Apparently it required a manager to get that cleared up. At the store I found a reasonably priced windbreaker type jacket that I bought. For some reason it was discounted an extra ten percent for me. I think this is another suite perk (turns out to be a Latitudes perk – I’m silver now, this cruise will make me seven points shy of platinum). I’ll find out next time I buy something. Back to the cabin where I unpacked and then worked on this. And now it is almost midnight and I am tired. So it is time to go to sleep. Good night. Friday, December 9 - Day at Sea Good morning from somewhere off the cost of Cuba. I woke up a little before sunrise. However, it was not worth getting up for. Clouds on the horizon and no clouds overhead. Clouds on the horizon means the sun has to rise higher, which means it is brighter, which washes out the colors. Or, it would have washed out the colors if there had been any clouds overhead to create the colors. I have a fancy coffee machine in the cabin. I don’t drink coffee. However, the buttons on the machine are well-lit. So well-lit that this cabin does not need a night light. Speaking of lights, it is going to take me more than two weeks to figure out which switch turns on/off which light. There are switches by the bed, switches by the door, and switches in the dressing area. Each one seems to operate a different light, or does nothing at all. At least I think some of the switches don’t do anything. There are not many children onboard this cruise. Based on my experience, if the cruise takes more than five working days, you don’t see many kids. Personally I like the extra energy the kids add to the cruise. In the Freestyle Daily (the ship’s newspaper) is an offer for a twenty dollar bag of laundry which will be returned on December 17 in the evening (the cruise ends on December 19). So let’s see, we have not been on the ship for 24 hours yet and they are going to take a bag of laundry and not give it back until a day and a half before the end of the cruise. Who has that much laundry in one day and then can go eight days without those clothes? I went for breakfast and discovered the NCL suite breakfast is very similar to the Royal Caribbean breakfast. I had an omelet for breakfast. It was good and this is a very nice perk. Speaking of perks, I wanted this cabin because it has a forward facing balcony. It just happens to be a suite. But it came with a lot of extras. As noted, I have a free beverage package, a free dinner package, pre-paid tips, a special breakfast (7:00am to 9:30am) and lunch (noon to 2:00pm) restaurant exclusive to suite guests, a butler, a concierge, an Espresso machine, a DVD player, and 250 Internet minutes with an Ethernet connection (I don’t have to connect via WI-FI, even though I can). However, the TV is not interactive (another rumor is the TV will become interactive after next year’s dry dock). I have to go to Guest Services to check my account balance. Speaking of changes, it would nice if they removed the “Hope you enjoyed your cruise” message that was playing for people that disembarked yesterday. That is not something I want to see on the first full day of my cruise. At 11:00am we had a Meet and Greet. It was a good turnout. I would guess thirty to forty people. Many of the senior officers, including the captain, were there. We are going to be invited back at the end of the cruise to critique the cruise. I think it is great that NCL is actively seeking comments from passengers on the ship. After the gift exchange we had a cabin crawl. We saw a rear facing regular balcony cabin, a side facing regular balcony cabin, a handicap ocean view cabin and my cabin. My first NCL cruise was on the NCL Star. I had a regular side facing balcony cabin. But I don’t remember it being only four feet deep. I knew people would be impressed with my balcony, which is about eighteen feet deep, including the six feet that are under the overhang. I called my butler to bring over one dozen chocolate covered strawberries. This is an extra cost request (I’ve got to spend my onboard credit on something or I’ll lose it). But, they make it fresh and he was not sure he could get it to the cabin in time. He arrived seconds after everyone left. Oh well, I invited them to come for Panama Canal, I’ll save the strawberries until then (the refrigerator works fine). I was able to demonstrate my walk through closet. I don’t have a walk-in closet, but I do have a walk-through closet. Unfortunately I forgot to show off my his and her safes (yes, I have two safes). What I did not realize is that there are some rear facing cabins that are not suites. I knew the balconies were not as big as mine, but I did not realize that there are rear facing regular balcony cabins. After the cabin crawl I had lunch. It was the same menu as yesterday. Today I had the pasta. Back at the cabin I called the concierge for dinner reservations. 8:30pm at Moderno (the Brazilian restaurant - one of the specialty restaurants). Then I worked on this. Well, it is almost 3:00pm and time to go out and get some day at sea pictures. Be back at you later. Got some day at sea pictures and finished off most of the inside pictures that I wanted. I decided to rest until the early show tonight, featuring a group (four men) that perform all of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons hits. They were good, but there wasn’t as much energy as I like. Between the end of the show and my dinner reservation I stopped by guest services to get a printout of my account. After that I went to Moderno for dinner. They hand you a menu of a dozen different cuts of meat. I picked out the one I wanted and waited. Soon a waiter came to me with a card. A picture of the front end of a cow with a green background on one side and a picture of the other end of the cow with a red background on the other side. After I get my salad from the salad bar and I am ready for the meat, I turn my card green side up and the servers with the meat will come by. They bring all twelve cuts (not all at the same time) and give you a little of each one. You can have seconds if you wish. Well, a little here, a little there, pretty soon you are full. I was full and turned my card back to red. It was good, but it would not be a good place for vegetarians. Back to the cabin where I had an invitation for a party hosted by the captain. Another suite perk. I noted the time and then looked at my account. No surprise charges but no onboard credit either. So I got my printout and went back to guest services. I showed them my printout. They took a copy and sent a note to Miami. They would get back to me when they had an answer. After that it was back to the cabin to upload my pictures, finish this and get some sleep. See ya tomorrow morning. Saturday, December 10 - Day at Sea Woke up with some hope of a good sunrise picture. I even got out of bed and was going to heat up my lens with the blow dryer (so it would not fog up when I took it outside) when I realized there would be no sunrise. There were clouds overhead alright, there were also clouds over the horizon. I don’t believe I saw the sun all day. So I took a ginger tablet as a precaution and went back to bed for a couple of hours. I eventually headed to breakfast and had French toast. I noticed that the water was sloshing around in the pool pretty good and got some video of that. I began to realize that this might not be a day to remember when I noticed an officer speaking to the person in the pool. Sure enough, the person then got out of the pool. I kind of figured that this was a prelude to emptying the pools, and it was. The pools are emptied for two reasons. First of course is safety. As the water in the pool moves up and down, so do the people in the pool. Too much up and down movement and people could get hurt. The second reason is that the water is heavy and it is up high (deck 12). Emptying the pools helps stabilize the ship. After breakfast I finished taking the inside pictures of the ship. I was hoping in the afternoon to get some more day at sea pictures. It was not to be, as the weather got worse. Back at the cabin I uploaded my pictures, choose a few to email back to the rest of the team at work (just to rub it in), resized the pictures for emailing, and composed my cover note. I don’t care how much NCL brags about their fast Internet, it is not as fast as it is for me at home. I don’t want to spend my entire 250 minutes emailing one 24 megapixel photo. So I down size them to about one megapixel. Then I backed everything up. I relaxed for a little while and then had lunch. I went with the French dip because it had bread. Now, not only was the ship rolling, but it was also getting wet (rain). And, the wind had picked up enough that the outside exposed decks were roped off and the barf bags were placed near the elevators. When I got back to the cabin I took another ginger tablet, just in case. Ginger (the tablet, not Maryann’s friend) helps prevent nausea. During the cabin crawl I point out many of the things that are sort of unique to these forward facing cabins, including the big metal plate that can be placed over the window “just in case”. However, I did not know the reason for the rope until my cabin steward came in. He had been instructed to tie up the deck furniture. The deck furniture is tied up so that it cannot blow away. I noticed I had a phone message. It was from guest services regarding my onboard credit. I went down to guest services and was informed that “Miami” said I was not entitled to an onboard credit. Arguing with the guest services agent was not going to do any good and would just get me mad and ruin my vacation. This is more of a principle thing than anything else. So I am not going to allow it to ruin my cruise. I booked this through a travel agent and she is getting a good size commission out of it. I sent an email to my agent and let her take care of it. I called the concierge to make reservation for Teppanyaki. I knew it was popular and thought about making a reservation before I boarded the ship. However, that defeats the whole idea of do what you want when you want. All the good times for the next few days are booked up, so I’m having dinner at 9:00pm tonight. That is okay with me, since I usually eat late. With any plans I had for the afternoon wind and rained out, I decided to just relax until the 6:00 captain’s reception. I’m sure the only reason I was invited is because I’m in a suite. I had my picture taken with the captain and spoke to him briefly. Then I sat down, had a few drinks, a few little snacks, and spoke to a few of the other officers. I listened to the soft music the live band was playing as long as I could, and then headed back to the cabin to work on this. While typing on this the weather report changed from four to seven and half foot waves to seven and a half to twelve foot waves. Some of those big waves can really push the ship around. Also, while I’m working on this I can hear the music from the Stardust Theater show. It is not loud enough to bother me, but it is something I would not have expected. At any rate, it is time for dinner. I’ll see you later. Teppanyaki is a Japanese restaurant where they cook your food in front of you and entertain you at the same time. On land they do both at the same time. Dinner takes about one hour. Here it seems the focus is on entertainment. While the entertainment was pretty good, I was there for dinner. I enjoy the entertainment with dinner. I did not enjoy the part of the show that was performed before, and instead of, cooking dinner. It was a 9:00pm reservation. I didn’t get my first bite of food until 10:00pm (yes, I looked at my watch). However, I felt better when I realized that they had cooked too much fried rice. I like fried rice. I had three bowls of fried rice, along with my chicken and shrimp meal. So I didn’t leave hungry. However, all the extra entertainment added thirty minutes to the length of the meal. So it ended up taking ninety minutes instead of the sixty minutes it takes on land. Now I understand they are trying to have fun, the same as on land. However, the cook entertaining another table was so loud that I could not hear the people next to me talking to me. For the most part I just pointed at what I wanted and could never figure out what the second choice for dessert was or even if there was a second choice. I ate the half of the desert I wanted, tasted the other half and left that half on the plate. Overall a good enjoyable meal, however, I will not be eating there at Teppanyaki again this cruise. Sunday, December 11 - Cartagena Today is our first port of call and the weather has definitely improved. If I had gotten my bearings straight, I would have gotten a really good sunrise photo. After traveling south for a full day we turned left to get to Cartagena. I was not sure which way we were headed and thus wasn’t sure where the sun was. Once I figured it out I had to go top side as the sun was a little behind my view. By then most of the good colors had disappeared. Still, I got an okay sunrise photo. By the time I am ready there is not enough time for a sit down breakfast, so I decide to the go to the buffet, get three slices of watermelon, a banana and two glasses of orange juice. The breakfast of champions. I am on the Scenic Cartagena tour that meets at 9:00am in the Stardust Lounge. We leave Cartagena early (2:00pm) so that we can make it to the Panama Canal nice and early. The tour is only two and a half hours. I am hoping it is similar to the tour I took in 2008, because there is a photo I want to repeat with my better camera. Well the tour was scenic, but not very photogenic. I did not take too many pictures and we didn’t go to the place where I wanted to repeat the 2008 photo. On the plus side I got to see parts of Cartagena I did see last time. The streets near the ocean were covered with water from yesterday’s rain. We did stop in the same shopping area that we stopped in eight years ago. I felt very comfortable there eight years ago and felt even more so this time. I was after souvenirs for seven different people and was very happy with what I found. Originally the price was $118 (and the conversion rate was 3003 to one). However, after I paid that they recomputed it to $83, refunded me the $118 and charged me $83. That kind of honesty is hard to find, even in the US. For those that are interested, it was store number ten. The tour guide was pushing store number three. I spent $14 in store number three on coffee (store number ten also had coffee). I bought four shirts for four young friends of mine (no, they don’t say my friend went to Cartagena and all I got was this lousy t-shirt). I bought a short glass for a friend of mine who collects shot glass (because of me he has a large collection of Caribbean shot glasses). And finally several bags of coffee for my sister and brother in law (I don’t drink coffee). The tour itself was not everything I hoped it would be, but the tour guide was good, so I left her a tip. After the tour I had lunch in the exclusive suite restaurant and had the chicken. Personally I don’t think any place that lets me in is all that “exclusive”. After lunch I took some port day photographs of the pool area. Then back to the cabin and changed so I could go swimming. I was just floating around when the ship’s horn went off (I didn’t know they let the horn get off). Somebody must be late. Still, when we left I didn’t hear any names called, so I guess everyone made it back. Tonight I decided to check out Summer Palace (the free or included restaurant). Am I willing to share? Yes. So am taken to a six top where one other person is sitting. Shortly after than one more person joins us. I decide to go for the pasta from the classic menu. This time there is no extra charge. I used to have this Freestyle down pat. That was eight years ago. Actually I prefer having a set time and place for dinner. However, one has to make certain sacrifices if one wants a forward facing balcony. It’s a tough life, but someone has to do it. After dinner I am tired, which is good, because I want to get a full night’s sleep for tomorrow’s early visit to the Panama Canal. So for now, good night. Monday, December 12 - Panama Canal I’m up in time for everything. We are supposed to arrive at 6:00am and I’m already up, showered, dressed, and I’ve set out some snacks and drinks for the people I invited to share my balcony with me. The first of many surprises came at 6:00am. It was still dark and it looked like there was a lighting storm outside. But no, apparently the captain was allowing passengers to go to the crew area at the bow. People were taking selfies (okay) and people were taking pictures of the land which was at least one mile away (nobody has a flash that powerful). They set up a couple of tents for shade and drink sales (of course). But they suffer from the same problem everyone else has (except for those of us in the twelve forward facing suites). Once they move away from the rail, it could be hours until they get their place back. I have cold water (I ended up having my butler bring me four more bottles of water and a bucket of ice), I have food (and could have ordered more, except my butler brings me edible gifts every day - there is no chance I’ll starve in this cabin), I have easy access to shade, I have easy access to a bathroom, and the best part is, I’ll still be able to get my place at the rail back. This is why I booked this cabin. The Freestyle Daily said there would be Panama Canal t-shirt sale on the pool deck starting at 6:30am. I went up at 6:15am to get a preview and didn’t see a thing. Then I went back to my cabin. I didn’t want to leave at 6:30am because I didn’t know when my guest would arrive. They came at 7:20am and confirmed that they were selling t-shirts on the pool deck. So I left my cabin to my guest and when up to get a couple of Panama Canal t-shirts. They had a blue and gray shirts in my size. I picked up the blue one and looked for my size in some of the other colors. Guess what, the color determined the size. No yellow or red for me, they were all too small. So I went with the blue and gray ($15 for one and $20 for two – or the big special, three for $75). Back to the cabin and I was able to explain a few things about what was about to happen because I’ve done this once. But there are two channels now (not one). Are the new locks operating? None of us knew the answer, but it quickly became apparent that they were. Which way would we going? I said I had never entered from this side before, but looking at the size of the ships ahead of us, I was guessing that to the right was the old locks and to the left was the new locks (I was right). I also noticed that we were a bit behind the posted schedule. That would later snowball into a (much) bigger problem. At any rate, up the locks we went. It is not exactly a thrill ride, but it is interesting. Even more interesting is that one hundred year old technology is being used, and it is still working perfectly today. For example, there are no pumps. All the movement of water is done with gravity. Once we entered Gatun Lake, we moved off to the left and anchored. Then passengers on the excursions were tendered to a meeting place were all would join whatever excursions they were on. It took a long time. I would later find out that about eleven hundred passengers (almost half the passengers) left the ship. Then we went down the locks. Personally I think they should just open the gates and lets the ships slide down, it would only take about thirty seconds compared to the two and one half hours it takes doing it their way. Now here is where the delays became a big problem. We should have been in Colon at 5:00pm. It was 5:30pm when we exited the last lock. The captain said this was out of his control, since they have to follow the schedule the Panama Canal managers give him. We did not get to Colon until just before 7:00pm. Because we were late the captain gave us an extra half hour. We had to be back onboard by 8:00pm. He could only give us an extra half hour because of the high speed run to Puerto Limon. High speed? I checked the speed on the TV, we never went above seventeen knots. For a ship capable of twenty-five knots, I would not consider it high speed unless we were going over twenty knots. Being in a suite I get priority debarkation. I got off at 7:10pm. The sign at the gangway said crew had to be back my 7:00pm and passengers had to be back by 8:00pm. As I walked out I saw the looong line to get back on the ship that the excursion passengers had created. Everyone who left the ship in Gatun Lake was on time, and apparently they were not being told why the ship was not there. So they were not happy campers. I set a time limit of 7:30pm. No matter what I was doing, at 7:30pm I was heading back to the ship. Those of us on the ship understood the situation, but that did not make me any less disappointed about not seeing Colon. I had time to buy two shot glasses and then I headed back to the ship. The problem was simple. Instead of having three hours to embark everyone, they had fifty minutes. To save time they were not using the metal detector or x-ray machine. The five of us (my four balcony guests and myself) had plans to meet at Summer Palace (an included restaurant) at 7:00pm. We decided to throw that out the window and meet for dinner tomorrow night. So I headed to La Cucina, the Italian restaurant. The place was empty. I had a personal sized pizza and some pasta. All good and free, as this was the third of my five free specialty restaurant dinners. After dinner I decided to go back to the cabin and get some sleep. I spent the entire day in the sun and it was time to get some sleep. So until tomorrow, good night. Tuesday, December 13 - Puerto Limon I checked my email this morning and I received the following email reply from my travel agent: No, remember when we switched to the December sailing, we lowered the rate by over $2300 and we lost the on board credit but you got prepaid gratuities, the unlimited beverage package, the 250 minutes of internet and the 5 dinner specialty dining in addition to the lower rate. We discussed that the $2360 savings and amenities were better than the two-hundred dollars ON BOARD CREDIT. I save all my documentation, as does my agent. Then just before the cruise I sort out what I need and what I don’t need. What I should have done when the switch was made was to throw out all the old information and just keep the new information. By keeping the old information and forgetting about the changes (except the lower cost) I confused myself. But no harm done. I did not say anything to anyone that I need to apologize for, nor did I spend any money I now regret. As I said earlier, I did not argue with anyone. I have an agent who I trust and it is her job to iron out any discrepancies. Of course getting a full explanation from my agent rather than a simple, “Miami said you are not entitled to an onboard credit”, was much more customer friendly. NCL knew about this, the change after all was forced on me once the January cruise was chartered out from under me. That said, my agent is not totally correct in what she said. I already had the pre-paid service charges and the Ultimate Dining Package. So what I gained when I last the two-hundred dollars onboard credit was the unlimited beverage package (which does not include water) and the 250 minutes of free Internet time (which I used to ask my agent about the missing onboard credit and to make sure my co-workers know I am having more fun than they are). Of course I also saved over $2,300 dollars, which I would always trade for two-hundred dollars onboard credit, so I really cannot complain. And, I did not spend any of that expected two-hundred dollars credit on anything I would not have purchased anyway, so I have lost nothing and saved over $2,300, which is why I am not complaining. Still, having the onboard credit would have been nice (picture a smiley face here). So, this is my first time to Puerto Limon. Normally for my first visit I find a ship sponsored sightseeing excursion to kind of get an idea of the lay of the land. This time I decided to do something different. I decided I would do a self-guided walking tour. So after breakfast (an omelet) I joined the priority group (suite perk) and started walking around. After walking around for a while I realized I was not seeing much. For some reason there are a lot of placed selling things around the port. At least the shop owners are not aggressive (did you read that Jamaica and Mexico - Americans, which make up about eighty percent of the cruising public, do not like aggressive sales people, even if they are in the United States). On my way back I was approached by a taxi driver offering me a two hour tour for thirty dollars. I’ve never done this before (what happened in Jamaica in 2011 was a miss communication which I will be careful not to allow to happen again). Since walking was not working and I’ve read some good reports about these off the street taxi tours, I said yes. Turned out to be a good deal. I saw things that were not the touristy places and really enjoyed the tour. I not sure the driver caught on to the fact that when he asked if I wanted to take a picture of a place I said no, but when he showed me any wildlife I jumped out the taxi. Funny thing the first time, I could not find my camera. I was sure I had it in my pocket and kept searching. He asked me if it was on my belt. Oops, I forgot, I moved it to my belt so I would have room in my pocket for my hat (it was not sunny when I started out). First we saw a sloth. I have no idea how he found it. It looked like a bird’s nest. Next was a yellow bird. I don’t remember what it was called, I just liked the color. It was not all yellow, it just had a yellow breast. But since all I see where I live are sparrows (all brown) and crows (all black) any two toned bird is an upgrade. It was hot (anything above seventy is hot to me – and it was well above seventy) and muggy. I am comfortable wearing a t-shirt when it is sixty-five. At work my office has the thermostat. Unfortunately it only goes down to sixty-nine. Our newest employee has a heater in his office. The secretary has a heater under her desk. In the Caribbean it is in the eighties year round. The low eighties in the winter and the upper eighties in the summer. However, when you add ninety percent humidity, it feels more like ninety-five degrees. Remember, once it reached one hundred percent humidity, sweating no longer works to cool you down. After the taxi tour I found a shop that had lots of souvenirs. Coffee for my sister and brother-in-law, things for the neighbor’s kids, a mask for both households and shot glasses for my friend (I have enough souvenirs at home). Then back to the ship, a cool shower, a change of clothes, and off to lunch. But first a phone message. New plans for the dinner that didn’t happen yesterday. I left a message for my choice, then off to lunch. By the time I got to the restaurant, I was ready for another shower and change of clothes. I had another cheeseburger. After lunch I went back to the cabin. A new phone message. Everyone agreed to go to Lotus Garden, which is one of the free/included restaurants. It is first come first served, except that suite passengers can call the concierge who can make reservations, which I did for five at 7:00pm. Then I put together my bag of laundry. I packed for nine days, with plans for laundry at the halfway point, just to keep things simple. Since I was flying first class, two bags were free, so I could have easily packed for all thirteen days. I estimated my laundry cost to be thirty dollars. It ended up being $38.25 for six pairs of socks, six underwear and three t-shirts and regular service. The slowest level of laundry service was an offer I saw on the first full day, and I believe everyday so far. “Fill your laundry bag and we will wash, dry and fold all items for only $19.95.” Sounds great, however, there is a catch. “Your items will be returned the evening of Saturday Dec 17.” So, you get your clothing back in time for the last full day. Now seeing this offer on the first full day was a bit odd. Who is going to be able to fill their laundry bag on day two, and then wait a week to get it back? And as long as we are discussing odd things, I used one of the public restrooms. It was either designed by basketball players or designed for basketball players. I don’t know what a six year old would do. I guess in an emergency he could shoot his stream up in an inverted “U”. All I can say is, I hope the six year old has good aim. There are three levels of laundry service. Express service is in by 9:00am out by 6:00pm. Express service carries a fifty percent surcharge. Normal service is in by 9:00am out by 6:00pm the next day. However, if you call your butler, normal service is expedited, but don’t tell anyone, it is not a published suite benefit. Actually I don’t know if that is true or not, however, it has been true for me the two times I have done it. Nonetheless, I had enough clothing for the next three days. With all of that behind me I decided to just rest, even though tomorrow is a day at sea, also known as a day of rest. The five of us balcony buddies met at the Lotus Garden at 7:00pm. There was a line, but I went to the side and mentioned that I had a reservation and we were soon seated. Lotus Garden is a Japanese themed restaurant. I had pot stickers for an appetizer and sweet and sour pork for the main course. After dinner the other four wanted to go to a Broadway show. I figured they were talking about a production show in the Stardust Theater. So I said yes. Oops, this was in the Spinnaker Lounge. Right-away I realized this was not my style. But I decided to be a good sport and go. It didn’t take long before I realized that I would have to come up with an excuse to leave. I figured I would wait until it was half over. However, I got lucky. One of the couples were not enjoying it either, so I didn’t need an excuse to leave, I just followed them out the door. I did thank them for an enjoyable dinner, even if it was all free. And with that I went to my cabin and just decided to watch a little TV and go to sleep. If you like news, there are lots of options. However, all that the news channels were talking about was Trump’s selection for this or that. Apparently not much else is happening in the world. If you don’t like news, there is plenty of soccer (football to the rest of the world). If you don’t like news or soccer, well your options are rather limited. There isn’t even a 24 hour cartoon channel for the kids. And so, until sometime tomorrow (since I get to sleep in) good night. Wednesday, December 14 - Day at Sea Well, we are booking. We are doing about 23 knots, the ship is rolling and it is raining. Other than that, it is looking like a great day. The pools were closed all day, so all I did was take a few pictures, watch a movie on the TV and just rest. Well, I didn’t “just” rest. My butler and room steward are driving me nuts. I can barely relax for ten minutes without the door bell ringing. The butler wants to know what he can do for me. Well, he could just let me rest. He brings me so much food that I don’t need to leave the cabin. I have more than enough food and water without going to any restaurants. All I am missing is nice rest. The room steward wants to know what time I am going to dinner. I use the dial by the door. He knows I use the dial by the door, because he resets it to welcome when he is done. So, if it says welcome, come back later. This is one of the reasons I am not sold on the Freestyle concept. With traditional dining (always eating at the same time) the room steward knows your schedule and doesn’t bother you as much. The other things I like about traditional dining is you have the same wait staff each night and they learn you likes and dislikes. By the third night you don’t have to tell them what you want. Also the dining times always work well with the show schedule. With Freestyle if you want to see the shows, you have to do the scheduling yourself. I’m trying to get away from that when I go on vacation. The dial has four settings, welcome, make up the room, turn down the room and do not disturb. I do not want run outside every time my mood changes, so I don’t use the “Do not disturb” portion of the dial. Besides, my co-workers can confirm that I am already disturbed enough - especially since I am emailing them on my vacation. Since I have 250 minutes of free Internet time, it was either email my co-workers (just to make them jealous) or do a “live from” thread and live from threads require real work and there is no special interest in this itinerary or this ship. I have done live from threads twice before, but both times there was some special interest in the ship. Cagney’s and Teppanyaki seem to be the most popular extra cost restaurants on the ship. Teppanyaki because of its limited seating (forty people) and Cagney’s is a steak house. I wanted to go to Cagney’s today, but there were no available time slots. So I booked it for tomorrow and the next day (to use up my five free extra cost dinners). I’ll likely repeat La Cucina (the Italian restaurant) after I use up my five dinners because it is the least expensive of the extra cost restaurants. So today I’ll go to O’Sheehan’s Bar and Grill. I would describe it as sit down fast food. You can get hot dogs, hamburgers and other sandwiches, like you would at a fast food restaurant, except it is cooked to order and you are seated at a normal restaurant table. Well, there really isn’t much to talk about today, and tomorrow I have an early private excursion with Island Marketing. It is so early, that since the ship moved the clocks back one hour, the excursion leaves thirty minutes before we arrive. I have gone with Victor Bodden the two prior times I came here. He is good, but he doesn’t have a sloth, so I am giving Island Marketing a try this time because they have a sloth. So until tomorrow, good night. Thursday, December 15 - Roatan I am up early and decide to go outside and get some sunrise photographs. Not the greatest sunrise but not bad either. We were sailing away from the sunrise, so I took most of my photographs from the ship’s stern, enabling me to get the ship’s wake in some of the photographs. Yesterday I noted the channel for showing the emergency procedures is now showing how to board a tender. Are we tendering? I’ve been to Roatan twice before and we have docked both times. As we approach I notice another ship is already there. As we get closer I realize it is the NCL Jade. I have not seen the Jade since I debarked from her after my full transit of the Panama Canal in February 2008 (which was the maiden voyage of the Jade. Prior to that the NCL Jade was the Pride of Hawaii. At that time the ship did not have its hull art. It left Miami for Europe where it went into dry dock. The Jade is docked. The pier will only hold one ship. So we have to tender. As noted, I have a private tour that thanks to the change in the ship’s time leaves thirty minutes before we arrive. I am really not that concerned about it. They know when the ship will arrive and I’m sure they will wait. Once off the tender I have to walk outside the pier area (Victor Bodden has a booth inside the pier area). I find Island Marketing (people are holding up signs) and find out that they are waiting for two more people. Given that the ship is tendering and I have priority (which I took advantage of), this could be a long wait. So I check out what is for sale in the little shopping area where the tour guide said she will look for me. I find some items I will purchase when I get back from the tour. It was a long wait and the other two did not show up. So I and two others head off to the West End. The other two just want to go to the beach so I end up with a tour of the island. Then in town we stop by a store that makes its own chocolate. The tour guide wants to know if I would like to go in. Yes. So she stops right next to a no parking sign. I ask her if she is going to park next to this no parking sign. She is embarrassed because she didn’t see the sign. So she goes up the street a bit further, makes a U turn and finds a spot right in front of the store. I go into the store, sample a few products and buy one of the bars for five dollars. Then I give half to the tour guide. We wait and I find out that two more people are going to join us. The tour guide’s boss is bringing them. She keeps looking around the corner. I ask her if she is looking for her boss. Yes she is. So I suggest that she call her boss. She does and it turns out her boss in the town headed our way. The problem is, the street is two lanes wide and when people park on the side, it turns into an alternating one way street. So it takes some time before they catch up to us. With the two new arrivals comfortably seated (this is a brand new looking SUV with over 130,000 miles on it) we head off to the iguana farm. It is the same one I visited in April. The main attraction for me is, the sell they big leaves two for a dollar. The leaves have a long stem and as soon as you put the leaf down to ground level, the iguanas come running. They step on each other and size rules. It is kind of fun, though the iguanas are not cute furry things. Their monkeys and sloth are close by (half a mile) and the other two are from Florida and are not interested in seeing the iguanas. They have iguana in Florida. The tour guide/driver take them to the monkeys and then comes back for me. I spent four or five dollars on food for the iguanas. I also bought four waters to share with the group. The tour guide was grateful for the water. The other two had their own water. No problem, I’ll just bring the water back on the ship with me. The monkeys they like to hop on peoples’ arms, shoulders and head. They will also steal anything in your pockets, so we leave all of our stuff out on a bench. They feed the monkeys sunflower seeds. Next time I’m going to smuggle some grapes off, because I know the monkeys like the grapes. Feeding the monkeys is a little more fun. However, one of the smaller ones was a little fearful of one of the bigger ones, and they let one of the monkeys out of the cage. So there was only one we could feed. Apparently they let each monkey out of the cage for one hour per day. It is interesting that they have no trouble keeping their monkeys. In April Victor Bodden had one monkey that escaped. Now we have two monkeys on the outside, people in the cages with all there belonging sitting on the bench. I was outside and noticed the monkeys were “investigating” the items on the bench. I said, “Hey, you’re not supposed to do that” which drew the owner’s attention. Fortunately just by walking over to the bench the two monkeys dropped their ill-gotten gains and headed for the trees. I picked the items up and just put them back on the beach, since I don’t know which purse the items came out of. The people in the cage will have to sort that out for themselves. After the monkeys it was sloth time. I was the first to volunteer to hold the sloth. Three towed sloths are gentle. Two towed sloths are bigger and aggressive. The sloths don’t move much, and don’t like to be scratched behind the ears (like a dog). They like to be petted on their backs (like a cat). We also got to feed some of the smaller green parrots. They have other animals there that we could did not get to feed, like the bigger multicolored macaws, raccoons and a couple of other animals they have. Then we went to a resort where we could spend some time on the beach. This was actually a protected body of water, more like a pond. There were no rocks and thus no fish. But perfectly safe to play in, even for children. Being a bit hungry, I decided to have a hamburger. Once the tour guide and I were done eating, we returned to the ship. All in all, very enjoyable. There are some things about the Island Marketing tour that I liked better than Victor Bodden and some things I liked better with Victor Bodden. I would recommend either one. Back at the little shopping area I bought something for everyone except me (I have more souvenirs and t-shirts then I need), and then headed back to the ship. I shower and dress before going to Cagney’s Steakhouse tonight. I decide on creamed corn and mac and cheese for the sides, and the rib eye for the main course. All are good. After dinner I am tired, so I head back to the cabin, watch a little TV, and fall asleep. Friday, December 16 - Belize Originally I planned to just stay on the ship. But eventually I decided to go into town. It took about twenty minutes to fill up the tender, which is a big open air commercial tender (not one of the small stuffy ship tenders). Another fifteen minutes to make the five mile run to the town, and about five minutes to exit the tender. All told about forty minutes, and I was not the first one on the tender. The problem here is the reef. The reef is protected and it is too shallow for the deep draft cruise ships. So the ships anchor out in the middle of the Caribbean and the passengers spend somewhere between eighty minutes and one hundred minutes of this port stop traveling between the ship and shore. I walked around until a taxi driver offered me a one hour tour for $25. The nice thing about these taxi tours is that you see parts of the city the tour buses don’t show you, and in my opinion, are more interesting than seeing another church. For some reason the ship tours always seem to include a church. After that I found a few things to buy, including a shirt for yours truly, and took an early tender (before lunch) back to the ship. I showered, changed clothes and had lunch inside the cabin. The butler brought me enough food for lunch, so I munched on two sandwiches (each cut into quarters) and fruit. After that I decided to stay cool, stay in the cabin, rest, and work on this. Then when I realized there was a good sunset developing just outside my cabin, I warmed up my camera and captured some good sunset pictures. Here is a little hack you can use to get a cold camera and lens warm enough to work in warm moist air. Use the blow dryer on it. Just remember, you are trying to get the camera and lens warm, not hot. If the camera and lens are eighty degrees, your pictures will not look like they were taken just as fog was settling in. I was going to have the porterhouse steak tonight, figuring is was “only” 24 ounces. However, it is actually 32 ounces. I didn’t feel like having a two pound steak. So I ordered chicken drumsticks for the appetizer, onion rings and fries for the sides, and the “big” fillet mignon (eight ounces - the small is six ounces). Once again all were good. After dinner I went back to the cabin, worked on this, and eventually went to sleep. Tomorrow is our last port visit and my second of three ship excursions. For some reason we are moving out clocks back to Eastern Time tonight. I don’t know why we are doing this tonight. Costa Maya is on Central Time and the following day is a sea day. It makes more sense to change the time before a sea day rather than before a port stop, especially when that port is on the same time the ship is currently on. Saturday, December 17 - Costa Maya Costa Maya has a large pier. It is large enough to have a shuttle and to dock three ships, including the extra-large Royal Caribbean ships (Oasis class). It also has a very nice port area complete with a swimming pool and of course, plenty of bars, restaurants and stores. I have a 9:50am meeting on the pier, so I’ve got plenty of time to have breakfast and then head out for my shore excursion. It is a Segway tour. I’ve ridden a Segway before and enjoyed it so much I actually thought of buying one. But then I realize it would be a six thousand dollar toy. It is great for riding around town. However, there are some drawbacks. It has no trunk, so its carrying capacity is about the same as a bicycle and given its design, you cannot lock it. Even for just riding around town it has a drawback. You just stand on it. The only difference between riding a Segway and just standing is that you are moving while you are standing on a Segway. You cannot adjust your stance because shifting your weight is one of the methods of controlling the Segway. Still, it is fun to ride on. If you are going somewhere that is five miles away, and you are moving at ten miles per hour (top speed is about twelve miles per hour) you are basically standing still for half an hour each way. Try standing still for half an hour and you will see that this is not all that comfortable. However, if your front door and the mailbox are a quarter mile from each other, and you want to have some fun while you are traveling between the two, this is the way to go. First there is a release. It is no more dangerous than riding a bicycle. Then there is a video on how to control the Segway. Then we get to practice for a while. Finally it is out into the real world. I am not sure of compass directions, but looking at Costa Maya from the ship, we are heading to the lighthouse, beach, and tourists area to the left of the port area. I didn’t buy anything except a taco and Coke for lunch. I did have a backpack with me, but I had my eye on some stuff in the port area. Apparently the way the tour was set up, it would end at this beach area. We would then be given tickets for the taxi ride back to the port. However, we were running ahead of schedule and we were given the option on riding the Segways back to the port. That is what we all (four of us) decided to do, and away back to the port we went. In the port area I bought a couple of shot glasses and four color changing shirts (no coffee). Then it was back to the ship to get my good camera and take some pictures of the ship and the port area. Then back to the ship to shower, change clothes, and rest for dinner. I going back to La Cucina (the Italian restaurant). This will be my sixth specialty restaurant. As this is the least expensive of the specialty restaurants, and I enjoy Italian food, I wanted to save this until I had used up the five free specialty dinners. Back at the cabin I started out working on this. Then my butler showed up with the debarkation instructions for suite guests and the custom forms. The room steward had already left the standard debarkation instructions. Suite passengers are supposed to meet with the concierge at 3:00pm tomorrow for some special debarkation instructions. Suite guests get a priority luggage tag. However, I am on an NCL shore excursion and that has its own instructions and a special shore excursion luggage tag. Before the butler left, I gave him his tip (the butler and concierge are not included in the standard daily service charge). Eventually I decide to watch a little TV and go to sleep. I used to be a little more active, but age and all the free “adult” drinks has caught up with me on this cruise. I also am not a fan of heat or humidity, and especially not heat AND humidity. Sunday, December 18 - Day at Sea I don’t have anything special to do today except pack. I get up late and decided to try out the buffet for breakfast, since I have spent very little time at the buffet this cruise, thanks to the special breakfast and lunch for suite guests. At 11:30am the Meet & Greet participants have been invited back to meet with the department heads to discuss what went right and what went wrong with the cruise. 95 percent had high praise for the cruise and especially the crew. There was very little criticism. I agree, I have no real complaints. I asked why the time was changed before Costa Maya. Tony Rosa, the Hotel Director, explained that the schedule, and the time changes are set by management in the home office. He did agree with me that it would make more sense to change the time the night before the last sea day. I also asked why the Jade got to dock and we had to tender. Everyone got a good laugh out of that. Tony explained that these decisions are made two years in advance when the schedule is approved. After that I took some (sunny) day at sea photographs. Most people were sunning themselves and only a few were swimming. For lunch I had more in cabin snacks and watched (American) football. Then I showed up at the suite debarkation meeting only to give Noemi Yap (the concierge) her tip. She asked if I was going to stay. I told her I had a shore excursion and that the first line in the instructions said, you are on a shore excursion, don’t listen to anything Noemi has to say. She got a big laugh out of that. Back at the cabin I am putting the finishing touches on this, adding the recently taken photographs, backing everything up, watching football and packing. I have a 7:30pm reservation at Lotus Garden, which is one of the free restaurants. Only the concierge can make reservations at this restaurant. I look for something different from the last time I had dinner in the Lotus Garden, but nothing else struck my fancy. So, it was sweet and sour pork, fried rice, and pot stickers again. Back at the cabin I sorted things by weight. I bought a lot of stuff and my smaller luggage is carry-on size. I figured I could put all the heavy things in the smaller case with no problem and I should be okay with what was left over in the larger suitcase. I didn’t look at the weight of the smaller case at the airport, but the bigger one was 47.5 pounds. So it worked out pretty good for me. I made sure I saved some clothing for tomorrow. Last time I forgot to do that and I had to go naked until I reclaimed my luggage in the terminal. Not only was it embarrassing, but five people ended up throwing up and I think a few of the kids may have been scarred for life. So I put my luggage out to be collected and tried to watch the Secret Life of Pets. I guess you have to be pre-teen or the parent of a pre-teen to appreciate this movie. I turned it off about the time the big brown dog showed up and went to sleep. Monday, December 19 - Debarkation day I wake up before the ship enters the channel to the pier. I watch the ship spin on the TV. About 6:00am I get out of bed, shower and dress. Then I turn on the computer so that I can fill out my custom’s form. I keep tract of my purchases on the computer for this very reason. I also get my final onboard bill from the mail slot just outside the door and compare it to the total I have on my computer. They match, so we are good. I also go out on my balcony to watch a couple of Royal Caribbean ships and a couple of Carnival ships come in. At 7:15am I go for my last meal in the suite dining room. At 8:05am I head to the Stardust Theater where the ship excursion passengers meet. About 8:30am we are sent outside to debark. The line is long and does not move for about twenty minutes. I don’t know what the delay was, but I heard the tour guide say that all of a sudden several customs agents showed up. He thinks someone tried to bring in something that is illegal. The bus takes us to Everglades Safari Park. This is the third time I have taken this tour and alligators were in short supply on this airboat tour of the Everglades. We saw a few. But the alligator show more than made up for the lack of wild alligators. This show is different than any other alligator show I’ve seen. No alligator wrestling and no head in the mouth routines. These alligators are almost pet like. They react to their name and walk right up to the guy with their mouth open and not only is he not concerned, the alligators know that he has food and they make no attempt to bite it. It was so impressive that they made a big deal about not trying this on your own and that alligators do not make good pets. We were then delivered to the airport at about 1:30pm. My flight leaves at 4:50pm. So, if all goes well, I’ll see you again on the other side of the country. I hope to proof read this review on the flight. However, it will take time for me to sort through the more than two thousand photographs I took and post the good ones. Had a little scare at security. I went through the priority line. You know, the shorter line with less scanners so that it takes just a long at the non-priority line with more scanners. So I had to remove everything from my pockets, which of course included my wallet. I put my wallet in the web pocket of my computer backpack. When it arrived at the other end of the x-ray machine, there was no wallet in the web pocket of my computer backpack. I tried for two minutes to get someone’s attention. I haven’t been this ignored since I tried to get Taylor Swift’s attention. If I had spotted a terrorist, by the time I got TSA’s attention, the terrorist would have been at 30,000 feet. I was starting to get desperate when I looked down and found my wallet in the web pocket of my computer backpack. I don’t think I ever realized that my computer backpack had two web pockets before today. According to the flight tracker, the tail of the airplane is over El Paso and the nose of the airplane is approaching the border of New Mexico and Arizona. I am flying business class in a 777-300. My first reaction was these seats are really neat and they are. But they have several short comings. There is four across seating and all the seats are in a shell, so that you can recline the seats to full flat without invading anyone else’s space. The seats are all angled at about 45 degrees. The two window seats face the window. The two middle seats are both angled toward the center of the plane. Good luck for couples. The middle seats have half a wall between them. And if you have one child, one of you is going to enter his/her seat from a different isle than your own seat. And those in the same isle, are facing away from each other. Also, I have a window seat in name only. When my (fully padded) seatbelt is buckled, I can’t reach the window. I’m about as close to the window as the person in coach sitting in the seat next to the window seat. There are some good thing of course. These are eight way power seats. The back of the seat move back and down (all one motion) to a lay flat position. The seat moves forward and back and the foot rest moves up for that lay flat position. The entire seat also goes up and down, but only the pilot and co-pilot can control that. There is also an entertainment system with noise cancelling headphones (the noise cancelling works very well. There is a 115 volt power outlet where you can easily reach it. This would be a first class seat in any other domestic jet (in fact, except for the angling of the seats, it is very similar to the first class seat of the 787 I flew in in April. All in all, a very enjoyable seat, as long as you are flying solo. Well, my plan for proof reading this during the flight went out the window when I decided to watch the latest Jason Bourne movie. At any rate, the tail of the plane just passed Phoenix and the noise of the plane is over the Arizona/California border. We are about forty minutes from landing, so I am going to shut down now and look forward to getting home. After we land I pick up my luggage and head over to the Super Shuttle sign. I had to wait about thirty minutes for the Super Shuttle van to pick me up (about the same time I would have to wait for the FlyAway bus). But at least the person there was able to give me this information. That was the problem with Prime Time, I waited one hour with no information on the ETA. I was the only one in the van, so I was the first (and last) person dropped off. All in all a very enjoyable cruise. No complaints. My idea of just walking around didn’t work out too well, but the taxi tours (the first time I have done this) worked out great. Though most of my cruises have been with Royal Caribbean, and I have enjoyed them, Royal Caribbean seems to have forgotten that it is known for its service. I have also cruised with Carnival a lot, but I like to take longer cruises and Carnival has very limited choices that exceed eight nights. Given my experience with NCL, I may start cruising more often with NCL. Still, even though I am comfortable with Freestyle dining, I prefer traditional two seating dining. I have two more cruises booked, both on Princess. But I definitely will be booking another NCL cruise. First of all, I want to go to NCL’s private island, Great Stirrup Island. Also, I am now only seven points away from being Platinum on NCL, which is their top loyalty tier. After that, who knows? More NCL cruises are likely. But there are also three other cruise lines I have not tried yet. I still want to try Celebrity, Holland America, and Costa. And so, as soon as I sort my pictures I’ll post this review. Hopefully some of the readers will get some useful information out of it and hopefully all of the readers will enjoy it. For those that are interested in these things, this review is about 22 and one half pages long (as typed) and contains more than 13,500 words. I took about 2,200 photographs, including over 600 in the Panama Canal. I will post some of the photographs with the review and will provide links to more of the photographs (not all 2,200 photographs) and will provide links to the short videos I also shot (most are about twenty to thirty seconds long). If you want to see the pictures, click on the following link which will take you to the same review, with all the above listed photographs and videos. http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2439655

Pamama Canal in a forward facing balcony

Norwegian Pearl Cruise Review by Cuizer2

13 people found this helpful
Trip Details
NCL Pearl - Partial Transit of the Panama Canal - December 8 -> 19, 2016

Wednesday, December 7 - Travel Day

Before I start reviewing the cruise, I thought you would like to know a little about the person writing this. This is my 31st cruise. This will be my third NCL cruise and my first on the Pearl. My other two NCL cruises was an October 2005 cruise on the NCL Star to the Mexican Riviera and the maiden voyage of the NCL Jade, which was a full transit of the Panama Canal. This time I am only doing a partial transit of the Panama Canal.

I am platinum on Carnival and Diamond Plus on Royal Caribbean (second highest level on both lines). I also have three cruises on Princess (plus two more booked) and one cruise on the Universe Explorer (that ship no longer exists).

There is a little story of how I ended up on this cruises. Originally I was set to go on this cruise in January 2017. The January cruise is similar to this cruise except it was ten nights and I actually liked that itinerary better. But then that cruise was chartered by the Trekkies, so I moved to this cruise. This is an eleven-night cruise and it cost $2,200 less. I am getting an extra night for more than 25 percent less than the cost of the January cruise. So I guess I cannot complain too much. I am in a forward facing suite with a large forward facing balcony that also has a large overhang (which is good in case it rains). So while everyone else is pushing and shoving for a space on the rail (while we are in the Panama Canal), I’ll have my own private forward facing space at the rail and I will not lose it if I have to go to the bathroom or if I get hungry. And it is a suite. NCL does suites better than Carnival or Royal Caribbean (I have not been in a suite on Princess).

When I am not going through the Panama Canal, I normally book a balcony cabin. However, I have been in an inside, an ocean view, a balcony (both side facing and rear facing) and suites (once on Carnival, twice on Royal Caribbean and this will be my second time on NCL). This will be my first eleven-night cruise, which means I have now been on a three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, and fourteen night cruise.

So here I am in beautiful downtown LAX. I’m through security, there are two hours until my flight leaves and I’m in the Admiral’s club typing on my computer. Because people wanted more details in the review, I have started creating my review while on the cruise, when things are fresher in my mind. The people also like to see lots of pictures. I hope to satisfy that also.

Because of the rude dispatchers and unreliable service, I have given up on taxis for scheduled service. I use taxis for unscheduled service such as the airport to hotel and hotel to ship, but for home to the airport I am using a limo. It is not as expensive as it sounds. I am not paying for parking by driving my own car and using a taxi to go all the way to LAX would cost more than the limo. Going home, I’m going to try Super Shuttle again. I was very happy with their service last time. I was very unhappy with Prime Time’s service last time, so I will not use them again. My other option is the FlyAway Bus. The problem is one can wait awhile for it to show up and sometimes it is full. Thus, it is not a good option for terminals six and seven (American Airlines is in terminal four).

Well, enough about me, let’s start the vacation. Once the alarm goes off, I turn on my cell phone and I have a text from the limo company with information on how to contact the drive. I call him and everything is all set. He should be here in fifty minutes. It took him fifty-five minutes. First time ever a limo driver has been late. Then he heads off to a different freeway. I’m not paying by the mile but still, I suggest the freeway behind us would be shorter. He says he is dodging traffic. Even in Los Angeles the traffic is not that bad at 4:45am. I know the route he is taking. The way he is going, he will have to exit the freeway and take a short drive on the surface streets to get to the proper freeway. If he does that I’ll remain silent. Otherwise, we are going to end up on the wrong side of town. The limo is prepaid, so he cannot be trying to run up the meter. He does take the correct exit and then does get on the correct freeway. However, he did not seem too familiar with the route. A new driver?

So, what else can I say? This time I have a much better camera that I am going to use and I have a very wide angle lens. In 2008 when I did the full transit I had a good point and shoot camera. Now I have a very good DSLR with very wide lens, so I’m hoping to get better pictures this time.

The DSLR is of course a high quality camera and will produce better quality pictures than a point and shoot camera will. In addition, the lens is capable of taking in as much information as four photographs from the point and shoot, thus also creating a better picture then stitching the four point and shoot photographs together. In addition to the DSLR I have a point and shoot camera for off the ship. The DSLR is big and heavy and the point and shoot camera is light and fits in my pocket. I also have a waterproof camera for, wait for it ... taking pictures under water. Bet you didn’t see that coming.

Well, I’ve written about as much as I can, given my trip has barely started. So I’m going to put the computer away for now. The next time we chat I should be in Miami. This will be the first time I’ve departed from Miami in a non-Royal Caribbean ship. My full transit cruise did end in Miami, so I have departed from an NCL ship in Miami before.

Good evening from beautiful downtown Miami. Nothing exciting happened during the flight, which is a very good thing when discussing flying. I was surprised that the taxi was not a flat rate, since it has been before. But the total ended up less than $34 with tip, which is what I was expecting. I’ll have to check to see if Miami Airport to downtown is still listed as a flat rate on the websites.

I’m home now and the flat rate is still listed on the Miami taxi websites. However, with tip, it comes out the same.

I’m staying in the Holiday Inn across the street from the Bayside Marketplace. Great location, except the hotel is not tall enough. I may not be able to see the ship from the hotel. I’ve stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel twice before. It is tall enough to see the ships on the other side of the roadway. However, though the Intercontinental is only as short walk to the Bayside Marketplace, the Holiday Inn is literally across the street from the Bayside Marketplace. In addition, being closer to the cruise docks means the taxi fare to the ship will be less. In fact, if I was going to Royal Caribbean, I could walk there, if the roadway had a sidewalk.

Due to lack of sleep the night before, I was tired. I went to the Bayside Marketplace and had dinner there. I have a very nice room at the Holiday Inn. When I made the reservation I was offered a discount if I joined some club which was free. Normally I don’t do this because I know they are after my email address. But the discount was significant and they have not spammed me (yet), so I am happy. An added plus is, I also get the best available room. It is a nice room, with separate sitting and sleeping rooms (yes, this is a two room suite) and the sitting room has a wet bar with a mini refrigerator. I am happy. I am also tired, so I’ll be back at you in the morning.

Thursday, December 8 - Embarkation Day

When I first entered the room, the thermostat was set for 66 degrees. Fine with me. Well, do you know what happens when you have warm moist air and cold glass? You end up with condensation. I woke up at about 5:30am and all the windows were covered with drops of water. I’ll have to wait until the sun comes up before I’ll be able to see outside. Given that, I decide to sleep in.

Finally around 10:00am I decide I better get moving if I want to be at the pier by 11:00am (which I do). I shower and dress and head out the door. Normally I do not eat breakfast, and since lunch is free, I decide to skip breakfast today also. The taxi is fifteen dollars but the driver claims he does not accept credit cards. Okay, I’ve got a twenty that is not part of my cruise money. I brought $400 for spending and two-hundred dollars for extra tips (I have pre-paid the standard daily service charge). Fifteen dollars plus twenty percent is eighteen dollars, leaving me with two dollars to bribe the porters with.

The tip money is for the concierge and the butler. Because I am in a suite I have a bunch of packages, including pre-paid service charge (tips), a drink package, a dinner package (for the extra cost restaurants, but not for the extra cost items in the free restaurants), 250 minutes of Internet use, and I have onboard credit (or so I thought). The pre-paid tips does not include the butler or the concierge. Given all the packages I have, I am wondering what I’m going to spend the onboard credit on (I ended up spending over $276, so I would have used up the on board credit – if I had any)? In fact, if I was not in a suite, I could go the entire cruise and have a zero onboard bill at the end, if I wanted to. Of course, if I were not in a suite, I would not have all these free packages, so I guess either way, I’m going to end up owing something.

At any rate, I’m at the pier at 11:10am and on the ship before 11:30am. One of the suite perks includes priority check in. Other perks includes a special place for breakfast and lunch. I enjoyed this perk with Royal Caribbean, so I am looking forward to it here on NCL. Now normally once I board the ship I go to my cabin and drop off my carry-on luggage. But here we are escorted to the special lounge where we can have our special breakfast and lunch, starting with today’s lunch. I opt for the cheese burger because I want to go out and start taking pictures. I usually take picture first and eat when the cabins become available. But they trapped me this time.

Given the delay in picture taking, the rain late in the afternoon, and the early muster drill (3:15pm) I don’t get all the pictures I wanted. However, the next two days are days at sea, so I still have time for more pictures. One thing I did find out, which surprised me, is that there is no water slide. Not a big deal, but I thought all the NCL ships had a water slide (I have since seen an older picture of the NCL Pearl and it used to have a water slide). The little kids (and I do mean little - no one old enough to go to school would be interested) pool area leaves a lot to be desired (even if you just turned three yesterday). However, unique to NCL (as far as I know) is that there is a bowling alley (which rumor has it that it will be removed during the dry dock next year).

Being in a suite, NCL mailed me some priority luggage tags. So naturally I am one of the last to get my luggage. My luggage arrived after the muster drill was over. Fortunately my muster station was in the Stardust Theater, so I didn’t have to stand out in the heat, humidity, and rain. This is not a suite perk, there are ten different muster stations in the Stardust Theater, for about nine-hundred passengers (about 35 percent of all the passengers onboard).

The muster drill was short and painless, mostly consisting of how to put on a life vest. Many first time cruisers have never done this before, so it is important. I’m still trying to figure out how many people that can afford to fly don’t know how to operate a seatbelt. Because it is raining, the sail-away has been moved to the Spinnaker Lounge. This is where our roll call group decided to meet if it rained. I decided that if half the ship was going to show up, I would wait a while. So I did go, but I didn’t meet everyone since by the time I arrived, most were gone. Not really a big deal, since we are all meeting for a Meet and Greet tomorrow.

At the sail-away I ordered my first drink. I got charged full price. I decided to go to guest services and see what I did wrong. The line was long, so I decided to come back later. Turns out they give me a receipt for the full price, but only charge me the local tax. We were not in port, but we were still in US waters, so I got charged eighty cents tax.

After the sail-away I went back to my cabin and relaxed until 8:30pm. I had peeked at the menu for one of the free (included) restaurants and it included an eighteen ounce bone in rib eye steak. When I got to the restaurant (Indigo) I was seated right away. I looked over the menu and noticed everything under the classic heading was high end. On Royal Caribbean the classic menu is the everyday menu. On NCL it is the optional extra cost items in the free (apparently not included) restaurant. It also is not covered by the dinner package which I have. No matter, I got it anyway. None of the appetizers looked enticing, so I asked to have the grilled shrimp (which was free) as an appetizer. I skipped the desert.

After dinner I met up with one of the people from the roll call that I saw at the sail-away in the guest services line. We had a nice chat, basically discussing why we were at guest services. He had four bottles of an adult beverage and I think was charged twice and they kept his bag. They gave him his bag back after dinner, and he had the receipt to show he paid the corkage fee (fifteen dollars per bottle or sixty dollars for four bottles). Apparently it required a manager to get that cleared up.

At the store I found a reasonably priced windbreaker type jacket that I bought. For some reason it was discounted an extra ten percent for me. I think this is another suite perk (turns out to be a Latitudes perk – I’m silver now, this cruise will make me seven points shy of platinum). I’ll find out next time I buy something.

Back to the cabin where I unpacked and then worked on this. And now it is almost midnight and I am tired. So it is time to go to sleep. Good night.

Friday, December 9 - Day at Sea

Good morning from somewhere off the cost of Cuba. I woke up a little before sunrise. However, it was not worth getting up for. Clouds on the horizon and no clouds overhead. Clouds on the horizon means the sun has to rise higher, which means it is brighter, which washes out the colors. Or, it would have washed out the colors if there had been any clouds overhead to create the colors.

I have a fancy coffee machine in the cabin. I don’t drink coffee. However, the buttons on the machine are well-lit. So well-lit that this cabin does not need a night light. Speaking of lights, it is going to take me more than two weeks to figure out which switch turns on/off which light. There are switches by the bed, switches by the door, and switches in the dressing area. Each one seems to operate a different light, or does nothing at all. At least I think some of the switches don’t do anything.

There are not many children onboard this cruise. Based on my experience, if the cruise takes more than five working days, you don’t see many kids. Personally I like the extra energy the kids add to the cruise.

In the Freestyle Daily (the ship’s newspaper) is an offer for a twenty dollar bag of laundry which will be returned on December 17 in the evening (the cruise ends on December 19). So let’s see, we have not been on the ship for 24 hours yet and they are going to take a bag of laundry and not give it back until a day and a half before the end of the cruise. Who has that much laundry in one day and then can go eight days without those clothes?

I went for breakfast and discovered the NCL suite breakfast is very similar to the Royal Caribbean breakfast. I had an omelet for breakfast. It was good and this is a very nice perk. Speaking of perks, I wanted this cabin because it has a forward facing balcony. It just happens to be a suite. But it came with a lot of extras. As noted, I have a free beverage package, a free dinner package, pre-paid tips, a special breakfast (7:00am to 9:30am) and lunch (noon to 2:00pm) restaurant exclusive to suite guests, a butler, a concierge, an Espresso machine, a DVD player, and 250 Internet minutes with an Ethernet connection (I don’t have to connect via WI-FI, even though I can). However, the TV is not interactive (another rumor is the TV will become interactive after next year’s dry dock). I have to go to Guest Services to check my account balance.

Speaking of changes, it would nice if they removed the “Hope you enjoyed your cruise” message that was playing for people that disembarked yesterday. That is not something I want to see on the first full day of my cruise.

At 11:00am we had a Meet and Greet. It was a good turnout. I would guess thirty to forty people. Many of the senior officers, including the captain, were there. We are going to be invited back at the end of the cruise to critique the cruise. I think it is great that NCL is actively seeking comments from passengers on the ship.

After the gift exchange we had a cabin crawl. We saw a rear facing regular balcony cabin, a side facing regular balcony cabin, a handicap ocean view cabin and my cabin. My first NCL cruise was on the NCL Star. I had a regular side facing balcony cabin. But I don’t remember it being only four feet deep. I knew people would be impressed with my balcony, which is about eighteen feet deep, including the six feet that are under the overhang. I called my butler to bring over one dozen chocolate covered strawberries. This is an extra cost request (I’ve got to spend my onboard credit on something or I’ll lose it). But, they make it fresh and he was not sure he could get it to the cabin in time. He arrived seconds after everyone left. Oh well, I invited them to come for Panama Canal, I’ll save the strawberries until then (the refrigerator works fine). I was able to demonstrate my walk through closet. I don’t have a walk-in closet, but I do have a walk-through closet. Unfortunately I forgot to show off my his and her safes (yes, I have two safes).

What I did not realize is that there are some rear facing cabins that are not suites. I knew the balconies were not as big as mine, but I did not realize that there are rear facing regular balcony cabins.

After the cabin crawl I had lunch. It was the same menu as yesterday. Today I had the pasta. Back at the cabin I called the concierge for dinner reservations. 8:30pm at Moderno (the Brazilian restaurant - one of the specialty restaurants). Then I worked on this.

Well, it is almost 3:00pm and time to go out and get some day at sea pictures. Be back at you later.

Got some day at sea pictures and finished off most of the inside pictures that I wanted. I decided to rest until the early show tonight, featuring a group (four men) that perform all of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons hits. They were good, but there wasn’t as much energy as I like.

Between the end of the show and my dinner reservation I stopped by guest services to get a printout of my account.

After that I went to Moderno for dinner. They hand you a menu of a dozen different cuts of meat. I picked out the one I wanted and waited. Soon a waiter came to me with a card. A picture of the front end of a cow with a green background on one side and a picture of the other end of the cow with a red background on the other side. After I get my salad from the salad bar and I am ready for the meat, I turn my card green side up and the servers with the meat will come by. They bring all twelve cuts (not all at the same time) and give you a little of each one. You can have seconds if you wish. Well, a little here, a little there, pretty soon you are full. I was full and turned my card back to red. It was good, but it would not be a good place for vegetarians.

Back to the cabin where I had an invitation for a party hosted by the captain. Another suite perk. I noted the time and then looked at my account. No surprise charges but no onboard credit either. So I got my printout and went back to guest services. I showed them my printout. They took a copy and sent a note to Miami. They would get back to me when they had an answer.

After that it was back to the cabin to upload my pictures, finish this and get some sleep. See ya tomorrow morning.

Saturday, December 10 - Day at Sea

Woke up with some hope of a good sunrise picture. I even got out of bed and was going to heat up my lens with the blow dryer (so it would not fog up when I took it outside) when I realized there would be no sunrise. There were clouds overhead alright, there were also clouds over the horizon. I don’t believe I saw the sun all day.

So I took a ginger tablet as a precaution and went back to bed for a couple of hours. I eventually headed to breakfast and had French toast. I noticed that the water was sloshing around in the pool pretty good and got some video of that. I began to realize that this might not be a day to remember when I noticed an officer speaking to the person in the pool. Sure enough, the person then got out of the pool. I kind of figured that this was a prelude to emptying the pools, and it was.

The pools are emptied for two reasons. First of course is safety. As the water in the pool moves up and down, so do the people in the pool. Too much up and down movement and people could get hurt. The second reason is that the water is heavy and it is up high (deck 12). Emptying the pools helps stabilize the ship.

After breakfast I finished taking the inside pictures of the ship. I was hoping in the afternoon to get some more day at sea pictures. It was not to be, as the weather got worse.

Back at the cabin I uploaded my pictures, choose a few to email back to the rest of the team at work (just to rub it in), resized the pictures for emailing, and composed my cover note. I don’t care how much NCL brags about their fast Internet, it is not as fast as it is for me at home. I don’t want to spend my entire 250 minutes emailing one 24 megapixel photo. So I down size them to about one megapixel. Then I backed everything up.

I relaxed for a little while and then had lunch. I went with the French dip because it had bread. Now, not only was the ship rolling, but it was also getting wet (rain). And, the wind had picked up enough that the outside exposed decks were roped off and the barf bags were placed near the elevators. When I got back to the cabin I took another ginger tablet, just in case. Ginger (the tablet, not Maryann’s friend) helps prevent nausea.

During the cabin crawl I point out many of the things that are sort of unique to these forward facing cabins, including the big metal plate that can be placed over the window “just in case”. However, I did not know the reason for the rope until my cabin steward came in. He had been instructed to tie up the deck furniture. The deck furniture is tied up so that it cannot blow away.

I noticed I had a phone message. It was from guest services regarding my onboard credit. I went down to guest services and was informed that “Miami” said I was not entitled to an onboard credit. Arguing with the guest services agent was not going to do any good and would just get me mad and ruin my vacation. This is more of a principle thing than anything else. So I am not going to allow it to ruin my cruise. I booked this through a travel agent and she is getting a good size commission out of it. I sent an email to my agent and let her take care of it.

I called the concierge to make reservation for Teppanyaki. I knew it was popular and thought about making a reservation before I boarded the ship. However, that defeats the whole idea of do what you want when you want. All the good times for the next few days are booked up, so I’m having dinner at 9:00pm tonight. That is okay with me, since I usually eat late.

With any plans I had for the afternoon wind and rained out, I decided to just relax until the 6:00 captain’s reception. I’m sure the only reason I was invited is because I’m in a suite. I had my picture taken with the captain and spoke to him briefly. Then I sat down, had a few drinks, a few little snacks, and spoke to a few of the other officers. I listened to the soft music the live band was playing as long as I could, and then headed back to the cabin to work on this.

While typing on this the weather report changed from four to seven and half foot waves to seven and a half to twelve foot waves. Some of those big waves can really push the ship around. Also, while I’m working on this I can hear the music from the Stardust Theater show. It is not loud enough to bother me, but it is something I would not have expected.

At any rate, it is time for dinner. I’ll see you later.

Teppanyaki is a Japanese restaurant where they cook your food in front of you and entertain you at the same time. On land they do both at the same time. Dinner takes about one hour. Here it seems the focus is on entertainment. While the entertainment was pretty good, I was there for dinner. I enjoy the entertainment with dinner. I did not enjoy the part of the show that was performed before, and instead of, cooking dinner. It was a 9:00pm reservation. I didn’t get my first bite of food until 10:00pm (yes, I looked at my watch).

However, I felt better when I realized that they had cooked too much fried rice. I like fried rice. I had three bowls of fried rice, along with my chicken and shrimp meal. So I didn’t leave hungry. However, all the extra entertainment added thirty minutes to the length of the meal. So it ended up taking ninety minutes instead of the sixty minutes it takes on land.

Now I understand they are trying to have fun, the same as on land. However, the cook entertaining another table was so loud that I could not hear the people next to me talking to me. For the most part I just pointed at what I wanted and could never figure out what the second choice for dessert was or even if there was a second choice. I ate the half of the desert I wanted, tasted the other half and left that half on the plate.

Overall a good enjoyable meal, however, I will not be eating there at Teppanyaki again this cruise.

Sunday, December 11 - Cartagena

Today is our first port of call and the weather has definitely improved. If I had gotten my bearings straight, I would have gotten a really good sunrise photo. After traveling south for a full day we turned left to get to Cartagena. I was not sure which way we were headed and thus wasn’t sure where the sun was. Once I figured it out I had to go top side as the sun was a little behind my view. By then most of the good colors had disappeared. Still, I got an okay sunrise photo.

By the time I am ready there is not enough time for a sit down breakfast, so I decide to the go to the buffet, get three slices of watermelon, a banana and two glasses of orange juice. The breakfast of champions.

I am on the Scenic Cartagena tour that meets at 9:00am in the Stardust Lounge. We leave Cartagena early (2:00pm) so that we can make it to the Panama Canal nice and early. The tour is only two and a half hours. I am hoping it is similar to the tour I took in 2008, because there is a photo I want to repeat with my better camera.

Well the tour was scenic, but not very photogenic. I did not take too many pictures and we didn’t go to the place where I wanted to repeat the 2008 photo. On the plus side I got to see parts of Cartagena I did see last time. The streets near the ocean were covered with water from yesterday’s rain.

We did stop in the same shopping area that we stopped in eight years ago. I felt very comfortable there eight years ago and felt even more so this time. I was after souvenirs for seven different people and was very happy with what I found. Originally the price was $118 (and the conversion rate was 3003 to one). However, after I paid that they recomputed it to $83, refunded me the $118 and charged me $83. That kind of honesty is hard to find, even in the US. For those that are interested, it was store number ten. The tour guide was pushing store number three. I spent $14 in store number three on coffee (store number ten also had coffee).

I bought four shirts for four young friends of mine (no, they don’t say my friend went to Cartagena and all I got was this lousy t-shirt). I bought a short glass for a friend of mine who collects shot glass (because of me he has a large collection of Caribbean shot glasses). And finally several bags of coffee for my sister and brother in law (I don’t drink coffee).

The tour itself was not everything I hoped it would be, but the tour guide was good, so I left her a tip.

After the tour I had lunch in the exclusive suite restaurant and had the chicken. Personally I don’t think any place that lets me in is all that “exclusive”. After lunch I took some port day photographs of the pool area. Then back to the cabin and changed so I could go swimming. I was just floating around when the ship’s horn went off (I didn’t know they let the horn get off). Somebody must be late. Still, when we left I didn’t hear any names called, so I guess everyone made it back.

Tonight I decided to check out Summer Palace (the free or included restaurant). Am I willing to share? Yes. So am taken to a six top where one other person is sitting. Shortly after than one more person joins us. I decide to go for the pasta from the classic menu. This time there is no extra charge. I used to have this Freestyle down pat. That was eight years ago. Actually I prefer having a set time and place for dinner. However, one has to make certain sacrifices if one wants a forward facing balcony. It’s a tough life, but someone has to do it.

After dinner I am tired, which is good, because I want to get a full night’s sleep for tomorrow’s early visit to the Panama Canal. So for now, good night.

Monday, December 12 - Panama Canal

I’m up in time for everything. We are supposed to arrive at 6:00am and I’m already up, showered, dressed, and I’ve set out some snacks and drinks for the people I invited to share my balcony with me.

The first of many surprises came at 6:00am. It was still dark and it looked like there was a lighting storm outside. But no, apparently the captain was allowing passengers to go to the crew area at the bow. People were taking selfies (okay) and people were taking pictures of the land which was at least one mile away (nobody has a flash that powerful).

They set up a couple of tents for shade and drink sales (of course). But they suffer from the same problem everyone else has (except for those of us in the twelve forward facing suites). Once they move away from the rail, it could be hours until they get their place back. I have cold water (I ended up having my butler bring me four more bottles of water and a bucket of ice), I have food (and could have ordered more, except my butler brings me edible gifts every day - there is no chance I’ll starve in this cabin), I have easy access to shade, I have easy access to a bathroom, and the best part is, I’ll still be able to get my place at the rail back. This is why I booked this cabin.

The Freestyle Daily said there would be Panama Canal t-shirt sale on the pool deck starting at 6:30am. I went up at 6:15am to get a preview and didn’t see a thing. Then I went back to my cabin. I didn’t want to leave at 6:30am because I didn’t know when my guest would arrive. They came at 7:20am and confirmed that they were selling t-shirts on the pool deck.

So I left my cabin to my guest and when up to get a couple of Panama Canal t-shirts. They had a blue and gray shirts in my size. I picked up the blue one and looked for my size in some of the other colors. Guess what, the color determined the size. No yellow or red for me, they were all too small. So I went with the blue and gray ($15 for one and $20 for two – or the big special, three for $75).

Back to the cabin and I was able to explain a few things about what was about to happen because I’ve done this once. But there are two channels now (not one). Are the new locks operating? None of us knew the answer, but it quickly became apparent that they were. Which way would we going? I said I had never entered from this side before, but looking at the size of the ships ahead of us, I was guessing that to the right was the old locks and to the left was the new locks (I was right). I also noticed that we were a bit behind the posted schedule. That would later snowball into a (much) bigger problem.

At any rate, up the locks we went. It is not exactly a thrill ride, but it is interesting. Even more interesting is that one hundred year old technology is being used, and it is still working perfectly today. For example, there are no pumps. All the movement of water is done with gravity.

Once we entered Gatun Lake, we moved off to the left and anchored. Then passengers on the excursions were tendered to a meeting place were all would join whatever excursions they were on. It took a long time. I would later find out that about eleven hundred passengers (almost half the passengers) left the ship.

Then we went down the locks. Personally I think they should just open the gates and lets the ships slide down, it would only take about thirty seconds compared to the two and one half hours it takes doing it their way.

Now here is where the delays became a big problem. We should have been in Colon at 5:00pm. It was 5:30pm when we exited the last lock. The captain said this was out of his control, since they have to follow the schedule the Panama Canal managers give him. We did not get to Colon until just before 7:00pm. Because we were late the captain gave us an extra half hour. We had to be back onboard by 8:00pm. He could only give us an extra half hour because of the high speed run to Puerto Limon. High speed? I checked the speed on the TV, we never went above seventeen knots. For a ship capable of twenty-five knots, I would not consider it high speed unless we were going over twenty knots.

Being in a suite I get priority debarkation. I got off at 7:10pm. The sign at the gangway said crew had to be back my 7:00pm and passengers had to be back by 8:00pm. As I walked out I saw the looong line to get back on the ship that the excursion passengers had created. Everyone who left the ship in Gatun Lake was on time, and apparently they were not being told why the ship was not there. So they were not happy campers. I set a time limit of 7:30pm. No matter what I was doing, at 7:30pm I was heading back to the ship.

Those of us on the ship understood the situation, but that did not make me any less disappointed about not seeing Colon. I had time to buy two shot glasses and then I headed back to the ship. The problem was simple. Instead of having three hours to embark everyone, they had fifty minutes. To save time they were not using the metal detector or x-ray machine.

The five of us (my four balcony guests and myself) had plans to meet at Summer Palace (an included restaurant) at 7:00pm. We decided to throw that out the window and meet for dinner tomorrow night.

So I headed to La Cucina, the Italian restaurant. The place was empty. I had a personal sized pizza and some pasta. All good and free, as this was the third of my five free specialty restaurant dinners.

After dinner I decided to go back to the cabin and get some sleep. I spent the entire day in the sun and it was time to get some sleep. So until tomorrow, good night.

Tuesday, December 13 - Puerto Limon

I checked my email this morning and I received the following email reply from my travel agent:

No, remember when we switched to the December sailing, we lowered the rate by over $2300 and we lost the on board credit but you got prepaid gratuities, the unlimited beverage package, the 250 minutes of internet and the 5 dinner specialty dining in addition to the lower rate. We discussed that the $2360 savings and amenities were better than the two-hundred dollars ON BOARD CREDIT.

I save all my documentation, as does my agent. Then just before the cruise I sort out what I need and what I don’t need. What I should have done when the switch was made was to throw out all the old information and just keep the new information. By keeping the old information and forgetting about the changes (except the lower cost) I confused myself. But no harm done. I did not say anything to anyone that I need to apologize for, nor did I spend any money I now regret.

As I said earlier, I did not argue with anyone. I have an agent who I trust and it is her job to iron out any discrepancies. Of course getting a full explanation from my agent rather than a simple, “Miami said you are not entitled to an onboard credit”, was much more customer friendly. NCL knew about this, the change after all was forced on me once the January cruise was chartered out from under me.

That said, my agent is not totally correct in what she said. I already had the pre-paid service charges and the Ultimate Dining Package. So what I gained when I last the two-hundred dollars onboard credit was the unlimited beverage package (which does not include water) and the 250 minutes of free Internet time (which I used to ask my agent about the missing onboard credit and to make sure my co-workers know I am having more fun than they are).

Of course I also saved over $2,300 dollars, which I would always trade for two-hundred dollars onboard credit, so I really cannot complain. And, I did not spend any of that expected two-hundred dollars credit on anything I would not have purchased anyway, so I have lost nothing and saved over $2,300, which is why I am not complaining. Still, having the onboard credit would have been nice (picture a smiley face here).

So, this is my first time to Puerto Limon. Normally for my first visit I find a ship sponsored sightseeing excursion to kind of get an idea of the lay of the land. This time I decided to do something different. I decided I would do a self-guided walking tour. So after breakfast (an omelet) I joined the priority group (suite perk) and started walking around. After walking around for a while I realized I was not seeing much. For some reason there are a lot of placed selling things around the port. At least the shop owners are not aggressive (did you read that Jamaica and Mexico - Americans, which make up about eighty percent of the cruising public, do not like aggressive sales people, even if they are in the United States).

On my way back I was approached by a taxi driver offering me a two hour tour for thirty dollars. I’ve never done this before (what happened in Jamaica in 2011 was a miss communication which I will be careful not to allow to happen again). Since walking was not working and I’ve read some good reports about these off the street taxi tours, I said yes.

Turned out to be a good deal. I saw things that were not the touristy places and really enjoyed the tour. I not sure the driver caught on to the fact that when he asked if I wanted to take a picture of a place I said no, but when he showed me any wildlife I jumped out the taxi. Funny thing the first time, I could not find my camera. I was sure I had it in my pocket and kept searching. He asked me if it was on my belt. Oops, I forgot, I moved it to my belt so I would have room in my pocket for my hat (it was not sunny when I started out).

First we saw a sloth. I have no idea how he found it. It looked like a bird’s nest. Next was a yellow bird. I don’t remember what it was called, I just liked the color. It was not all yellow, it just had a yellow breast. But since all I see where I live are sparrows (all brown) and crows (all black) any two toned bird is an upgrade.

It was hot (anything above seventy is hot to me – and it was well above seventy) and muggy. I am comfortable wearing a t-shirt when it is sixty-five. At work my office has the thermostat. Unfortunately it only goes down to sixty-nine. Our newest employee has a heater in his office. The secretary has a heater under her desk. In the Caribbean it is in the eighties year round. The low eighties in the winter and the upper eighties in the summer. However, when you add ninety percent humidity, it feels more like ninety-five degrees. Remember, once it reached one hundred percent humidity, sweating no longer works to cool you down.

After the taxi tour I found a shop that had lots of souvenirs. Coffee for my sister and brother-in-law, things for the neighbor’s kids, a mask for both households and shot glasses for my friend (I have enough souvenirs at home).

Then back to the ship, a cool shower, a change of clothes, and off to lunch. But first a phone message. New plans for the dinner that didn’t happen yesterday. I left a message for my choice, then off to lunch. By the time I got to the restaurant, I was ready for another shower and change of clothes. I had another cheeseburger.

After lunch I went back to the cabin. A new phone message. Everyone agreed to go to Lotus Garden, which is one of the free/included restaurants. It is first come first served, except that suite passengers can call the concierge who can make reservations, which I did for five at 7:00pm. Then I put together my bag of laundry. I packed for nine days, with plans for laundry at the halfway point, just to keep things simple. Since I was flying first class, two bags were free, so I could have easily packed for all thirteen days. I estimated my laundry cost to be thirty dollars. It ended up being $38.25 for six pairs of socks, six underwear and three t-shirts and regular service.

The slowest level of laundry service was an offer I saw on the first full day, and I believe everyday so far. “Fill your laundry bag and we will wash, dry and fold all items for only $19.95.” Sounds great, however, there is a catch. “Your items will be returned the evening of Saturday Dec 17.” So, you get your clothing back in time for the last full day. Now seeing this offer on the first full day was a bit odd.

Who is going to be able to fill their laundry bag on day two, and then wait a week to get it back? And as long as we are discussing odd things, I used one of the public restrooms. It was either designed by basketball players or designed for basketball players. I don’t know what a six year old would do. I guess in an emergency he could shoot his stream up in an inverted “U”. All I can say is, I hope the six year old has good aim.

There are three levels of laundry service. Express service is in by 9:00am out by 6:00pm. Express service carries a fifty percent surcharge. Normal service is in by 9:00am out by 6:00pm the next day. However, if you call your butler, normal service is expedited, but don’t tell anyone, it is not a published suite benefit. Actually I don’t know if that is true or not, however, it has been true for me the two times I have done it. Nonetheless, I had enough clothing for the next three days.

With all of that behind me I decided to just rest, even though tomorrow is a day at sea, also known as a day of rest.

The five of us balcony buddies met at the Lotus Garden at 7:00pm. There was a line, but I went to the side and mentioned that I had a reservation and we were soon seated. Lotus Garden is a Japanese themed restaurant. I had pot stickers for an appetizer and sweet and sour pork for the main course.

After dinner the other four wanted to go to a Broadway show. I figured they were talking about a production show in the Stardust Theater. So I said yes. Oops, this was in the Spinnaker Lounge. Right-away I realized this was not my style. But I decided to be a good sport and go. It didn’t take long before I realized that I would have to come up with an excuse to leave. I figured I would wait until it was half over. However, I got lucky. One of the couples were not enjoying it either, so I didn’t need an excuse to leave, I just followed them out the door. I did thank them for an enjoyable dinner, even if it was all free.

And with that I went to my cabin and just decided to watch a little TV and go to sleep. If you like news, there are lots of options. However, all that the news channels were talking about was Trump’s selection for this or that. Apparently not much else is happening in the world. If you don’t like news, there is plenty of soccer (football to the rest of the world). If you don’t like news or soccer, well your options are rather limited. There isn’t even a 24 hour cartoon channel for the kids.

And so, until sometime tomorrow (since I get to sleep in) good night.

Wednesday, December 14 - Day at Sea

Well, we are booking. We are doing about 23 knots, the ship is rolling and it is raining. Other than that, it is looking like a great day. The pools were closed all day, so all I did was take a few pictures, watch a movie on the TV and just rest.

Well, I didn’t “just” rest. My butler and room steward are driving me nuts. I can barely relax for ten minutes without the door bell ringing. The butler wants to know what he can do for me. Well, he could just let me rest. He brings me so much food that I don’t need to leave the cabin. I have more than enough food and water without going to any restaurants. All I am missing is nice rest. The room steward wants to know what time I am going to dinner. I use the dial by the door. He knows I use the dial by the door, because he resets it to welcome when he is done.

So, if it says welcome, come back later. This is one of the reasons I am not sold on the Freestyle concept. With traditional dining (always eating at the same time) the room steward knows your schedule and doesn’t bother you as much. The other things I like about traditional dining is you have the same wait staff each night and they learn you likes and dislikes. By the third night you don’t have to tell them what you want. Also the dining times always work well with the show schedule. With Freestyle if you want to see the shows, you have to do the scheduling yourself. I’m trying to get away from that when I go on vacation.

The dial has four settings, welcome, make up the room, turn down the room and do not disturb. I do not want run outside every time my mood changes, so I don’t use the “Do not disturb” portion of the dial. Besides, my co-workers can confirm that I am already disturbed enough - especially since I am emailing them on my vacation. Since I have 250 minutes of free Internet time, it was either email my co-workers (just to make them jealous) or do a “live from” thread and live from threads require real work and there is no special interest in this itinerary or this ship. I have done live from threads twice before, but both times there was some special interest in the ship.

Cagney’s and Teppanyaki seem to be the most popular extra cost restaurants on the ship. Teppanyaki because of its limited seating (forty people) and Cagney’s is a steak house. I wanted to go to Cagney’s today, but there were no available time slots. So I booked it for tomorrow and the next day (to use up my five free extra cost dinners). I’ll likely repeat La Cucina (the Italian restaurant) after I use up my five dinners because it is the least expensive of the extra cost restaurants. So today I’ll go to O’Sheehan’s Bar and Grill. I would describe it as sit down fast food. You can get hot dogs, hamburgers and other sandwiches, like you would at a fast food restaurant, except it is cooked to order and you are seated at a normal restaurant table.

Well, there really isn’t much to talk about today, and tomorrow I have an early private excursion with Island Marketing. It is so early, that since the ship moved the clocks back one hour, the excursion leaves thirty minutes before we arrive. I have gone with Victor Bodden the two prior times I came here. He is good, but he doesn’t have a sloth, so I am giving Island Marketing a try this time because they have a sloth.

So until tomorrow, good night.

Thursday, December 15 - Roatan

I am up early and decide to go outside and get some sunrise photographs. Not the greatest sunrise but not bad either. We were sailing away from the sunrise, so I took most of my photographs from the ship’s stern, enabling me to get the ship’s wake in some of the photographs.

Yesterday I noted the channel for showing the emergency procedures is now showing how to board a tender. Are we tendering? I’ve been to Roatan twice before and we have docked both times. As we approach I notice another ship is already there. As we get closer I realize it is the NCL Jade. I have not seen the Jade since I debarked from her after my full transit of the Panama Canal in February 2008 (which was the maiden voyage of the Jade. Prior to that the NCL Jade was the Pride of Hawaii. At that time the ship did not have its hull art. It left Miami for Europe where it went into dry dock. The Jade is docked. The pier will only hold one ship. So we have to tender.

As noted, I have a private tour that thanks to the change in the ship’s time leaves thirty minutes before we arrive. I am really not that concerned about it. They know when the ship will arrive and I’m sure they will wait.

Once off the tender I have to walk outside the pier area (Victor Bodden has a booth inside the pier area). I find Island Marketing (people are holding up signs) and find out that they are waiting for two more people. Given that the ship is tendering and I have priority (which I took advantage of), this could be a long wait. So I check out what is for sale in the little shopping area where the tour guide said she will look for me. I find some items I will purchase when I get back from the tour.

It was a long wait and the other two did not show up. So I and two others head off to the West End. The other two just want to go to the beach so I end up with a tour of the island. Then in town we stop by a store that makes its own chocolate. The tour guide wants to know if I would like to go in. Yes. So she stops right next to a no parking sign. I ask her if she is going to park next to this no parking sign. She is embarrassed because she didn’t see the sign. So she goes up the street a bit further, makes a U turn and finds a spot right in front of the store. I go into the store, sample a few products and buy one of the bars for five dollars. Then I give half to the tour guide.

We wait and I find out that two more people are going to join us. The tour guide’s boss is bringing them. She keeps looking around the corner. I ask her if she is looking for her boss. Yes she is. So I suggest that she call her boss. She does and it turns out her boss in the town headed our way. The problem is, the street is two lanes wide and when people park on the side, it turns into an alternating one way street. So it takes some time before they catch up to us.

With the two new arrivals comfortably seated (this is a brand new looking SUV with over 130,000 miles on it) we head off to the iguana farm. It is the same one I visited in April. The main attraction for me is, the sell they big leaves two for a dollar. The leaves have a long stem and as soon as you put the leaf down to ground level, the iguanas come running. They step on each other and size rules. It is kind of fun, though the iguanas are not cute furry things.

Their monkeys and sloth are close by (half a mile) and the other two are from Florida and are not interested in seeing the iguanas. They have iguana in Florida. The tour guide/driver take them to the monkeys and then comes back for me. I spent four or five dollars on food for the iguanas. I also bought four waters to share with the group. The tour guide was grateful for the water. The other two had their own water. No problem, I’ll just bring the water back on the ship with me.

The monkeys they like to hop on peoples’ arms, shoulders and head. They will also steal anything in your pockets, so we leave all of our stuff out on a bench. They feed the monkeys sunflower seeds. Next time I’m going to smuggle some grapes off, because I know the monkeys like the grapes. Feeding the monkeys is a little more fun. However, one of the smaller ones was a little fearful of one of the bigger ones, and they let one of the monkeys out of the cage. So there was only one we could feed.

Apparently they let each monkey out of the cage for one hour per day. It is interesting that they have no trouble keeping their monkeys. In April Victor Bodden had one monkey that escaped.

Now we have two monkeys on the outside, people in the cages with all there belonging sitting on the bench. I was outside and noticed the monkeys were “investigating” the items on the bench. I said, “Hey, you’re not supposed to do that” which drew the owner’s attention. Fortunately just by walking over to the bench the two monkeys dropped their ill-gotten gains and headed for the trees. I picked the items up and just put them back on the beach, since I don’t know which purse the items came out of. The people in the cage will have to sort that out for themselves.

After the monkeys it was sloth time. I was the first to volunteer to hold the sloth. Three towed sloths are gentle. Two towed sloths are bigger and aggressive. The sloths don’t move much, and don’t like to be scratched behind the ears (like a dog). They like to be petted on their backs (like a cat).

We also got to feed some of the smaller green parrots. They have other animals there that we could did not get to feed, like the bigger multicolored macaws, raccoons and a couple of other animals they have.

Then we went to a resort where we could spend some time on the beach. This was actually a protected body of water, more like a pond. There were no rocks and thus no fish. But perfectly safe to play in, even for children. Being a bit hungry, I decided to have a hamburger. Once the tour guide and I were done eating, we returned to the ship.

All in all, very enjoyable. There are some things about the Island Marketing tour that I liked better than Victor Bodden and some things I liked better with Victor Bodden. I would recommend either one.

Back at the little shopping area I bought something for everyone except me (I have more souvenirs and t-shirts then I need), and then headed back to the ship.

I shower and dress before going to Cagney’s Steakhouse tonight. I decide on creamed corn and mac and cheese for the sides, and the rib eye for the main course. All are good. After dinner I am tired, so I head back to the cabin, watch a little TV, and fall asleep.

Friday, December 16 - Belize

Originally I planned to just stay on the ship. But eventually I decided to go into town. It took about twenty minutes to fill up the tender, which is a big open air commercial tender (not one of the small stuffy ship tenders). Another fifteen minutes to make the five mile run to the town, and about five minutes to exit the tender. All told about forty minutes, and I was not the first one on the tender.

The problem here is the reef. The reef is protected and it is too shallow for the deep draft cruise ships. So the ships anchor out in the middle of the Caribbean and the passengers spend somewhere between eighty minutes and one hundred minutes of this port stop traveling between the ship and shore.

I walked around until a taxi driver offered me a one hour tour for $25. The nice thing about these taxi tours is that you see parts of the city the tour buses don’t show you, and in my opinion, are more interesting than seeing another church. For some reason the ship tours always seem to include a church.

After that I found a few things to buy, including a shirt for yours truly, and took an early tender (before lunch) back to the ship. I showered, changed clothes and had lunch inside the cabin. The butler brought me enough food for lunch, so I munched on two sandwiches (each cut into quarters) and fruit.

After that I decided to stay cool, stay in the cabin, rest, and work on this. Then when I realized there was a good sunset developing just outside my cabin, I warmed up my camera and captured some good sunset pictures.

Here is a little hack you can use to get a cold camera and lens warm enough to work in warm moist air. Use the blow dryer on it. Just remember, you are trying to get the camera and lens warm, not hot. If the camera and lens are eighty degrees, your pictures will not look like they were taken just as fog was settling in.

I was going to have the porterhouse steak tonight, figuring is was “only” 24 ounces. However, it is actually 32 ounces. I didn’t feel like having a two pound steak. So I ordered chicken drumsticks for the appetizer, onion rings and fries for the sides, and the “big” fillet mignon (eight ounces - the small is six ounces). Once again all were good.

After dinner I went back to the cabin, worked on this, and eventually went to sleep. Tomorrow is our last port visit and my second of three ship excursions.

For some reason we are moving out clocks back to Eastern Time tonight. I don’t know why we are doing this tonight. Costa Maya is on Central Time and the following day is a sea day. It makes more sense to change the time before a sea day rather than before a port stop, especially when that port is on the same time the ship is currently on.

Saturday, December 17 - Costa Maya

Costa Maya has a large pier. It is large enough to have a shuttle and to dock three ships, including the extra-large Royal Caribbean ships (Oasis class). It also has a very nice port area complete with a swimming pool and of course, plenty of bars, restaurants and stores.

I have a 9:50am meeting on the pier, so I’ve got plenty of time to have breakfast and then head out for my shore excursion. It is a Segway tour. I’ve ridden a Segway before and enjoyed it so much I actually thought of buying one. But then I realize it would be a six thousand dollar toy. It is great for riding around town. However, there are some drawbacks. It has no trunk, so its carrying capacity is about the same as a bicycle and given its design, you cannot lock it. Even for just riding around town it has a drawback. You just stand on it. The only difference between riding a Segway and just standing is that you are moving while you are standing on a Segway. You cannot adjust your stance because shifting your weight is one of the methods of controlling the Segway. Still, it is fun to ride on.

If you are going somewhere that is five miles away, and you are moving at ten miles per hour (top speed is about twelve miles per hour) you are basically standing still for half an hour each way. Try standing still for half an hour and you will see that this is not all that comfortable. However, if your front door and the mailbox are a quarter mile from each other, and you want to have some fun while you are traveling between the two, this is the way to go.

First there is a release. It is no more dangerous than riding a bicycle. Then there is a video on how to control the Segway. Then we get to practice for a while. Finally it is out into the real world. I am not sure of compass directions, but looking at Costa Maya from the ship, we are heading to the lighthouse, beach, and tourists area to the left of the port area. I didn’t buy anything except a taco and Coke for lunch. I did have a backpack with me, but I had my eye on some stuff in the port area.

Apparently the way the tour was set up, it would end at this beach area. We would then be given tickets for the taxi ride back to the port. However, we were running ahead of schedule and we were given the option on riding the Segways back to the port. That is what we all (four of us) decided to do, and away back to the port we went. In the port area I bought a couple of shot glasses and four color changing shirts (no coffee).

Then it was back to the ship to get my good camera and take some pictures of the ship and the port area.

Then back to the ship to shower, change clothes, and rest for dinner. I going back to La Cucina (the Italian restaurant). This will be my sixth specialty restaurant. As this is the least expensive of the specialty restaurants, and I enjoy Italian food, I wanted to save this until I had used up the five free specialty dinners.

Back at the cabin I started out working on this. Then my butler showed up with the debarkation instructions for suite guests and the custom forms. The room steward had already left the standard debarkation instructions. Suite passengers are supposed to meet with the concierge at 3:00pm tomorrow for some special debarkation instructions. Suite guests get a priority luggage tag. However, I am on an NCL shore excursion and that has its own instructions and a special shore excursion luggage tag. Before the butler left, I gave him his tip (the butler and concierge are not included in the standard daily service charge).

Eventually I decide to watch a little TV and go to sleep. I used to be a little more active, but age and all the free “adult” drinks has caught up with me on this cruise. I also am not a fan of heat or humidity, and especially not heat AND humidity.

Sunday, December 18 - Day at Sea

I don’t have anything special to do today except pack. I get up late and decided to try out the buffet for breakfast, since I have spent very little time at the buffet this cruise, thanks to the special breakfast and lunch for suite guests.

At 11:30am the Meet & Greet participants have been invited back to meet with the department heads to discuss what went right and what went wrong with the cruise. 95 percent had high praise for the cruise and especially the crew. There was very little criticism. I agree, I have no real complaints. I asked why the time was changed before Costa Maya. Tony Rosa, the Hotel Director, explained that the schedule, and the time changes are set by management in the home office. He did agree with me that it would make more sense to change the time the night before the last sea day. I also asked why the Jade got to dock and we had to tender. Everyone got a good laugh out of that. Tony explained that these decisions are made two years in advance when the schedule is approved.

After that I took some (sunny) day at sea photographs. Most people were sunning themselves and only a few were swimming.

For lunch I had more in cabin snacks and watched (American) football. Then I showed up at the suite debarkation meeting only to give Noemi Yap (the concierge) her tip. She asked if I was going to stay. I told her I had a shore excursion and that the first line in the instructions said, you are on a shore excursion, don’t listen to anything Noemi has to say. She got a big laugh out of that.

Back at the cabin I am putting the finishing touches on this, adding the recently taken photographs, backing everything up, watching football and packing. I have a 7:30pm reservation at Lotus Garden, which is one of the free restaurants. Only the concierge can make reservations at this restaurant.

I look for something different from the last time I had dinner in the Lotus Garden, but nothing else struck my fancy. So, it was sweet and sour pork, fried rice, and pot stickers again.

Back at the cabin I sorted things by weight. I bought a lot of stuff and my smaller luggage is carry-on size. I figured I could put all the heavy things in the smaller case with no problem and I should be okay with what was left over in the larger suitcase. I didn’t look at the weight of the smaller case at the airport, but the bigger one was 47.5 pounds. So it worked out pretty good for me.

I made sure I saved some clothing for tomorrow. Last time I forgot to do that and I had to go naked until I reclaimed my luggage in the terminal. Not only was it embarrassing, but five people ended up throwing up and I think a few of the kids may have been scarred for life.

So I put my luggage out to be collected and tried to watch the Secret Life of Pets. I guess you have to be pre-teen or the parent of a pre-teen to appreciate this movie. I turned it off about the time the big brown dog showed up and went to sleep.

Monday, December 19 - Debarkation day

I wake up before the ship enters the channel to the pier. I watch the ship spin on the TV. About 6:00am I get out of bed, shower and dress. Then I turn on the computer so that I can fill out my custom’s form. I keep tract of my purchases on the computer for this very reason. I also get my final onboard bill from the mail slot just outside the door and compare it to the total I have on my computer. They match, so we are good. I also go out on my balcony to watch a couple of Royal Caribbean ships and a couple of Carnival ships come in.

At 7:15am I go for my last meal in the suite dining room. At 8:05am I head to the Stardust Theater where the ship excursion passengers meet. About 8:30am we are sent outside to debark. The line is long and does not move for about twenty minutes. I don’t know what the delay was, but I heard the tour guide say that all of a sudden several customs agents showed up. He thinks someone tried to bring in something that is illegal.

The bus takes us to Everglades Safari Park. This is the third time I have taken this tour and alligators were in short supply on this airboat tour of the Everglades. We saw a few. But the alligator show more than made up for the lack of wild alligators. This show is different than any other alligator show I’ve seen. No alligator wrestling and no head in the mouth routines. These alligators are almost pet like. They react to their name and walk right up to the guy with their mouth open and not only is he not concerned, the alligators know that he has food and they make no attempt to bite it. It was so impressive that they made a big deal about not trying this on your own and that alligators do not make good pets.

We were then delivered to the airport at about 1:30pm. My flight leaves at 4:50pm. So, if all goes well, I’ll see you again on the other side of the country. I hope to proof read this review on the flight. However, it will take time for me to sort through the more than two thousand photographs I took and post the good ones.

Had a little scare at security. I went through the priority line. You know, the shorter line with less scanners so that it takes just a long at the non-priority line with more scanners. So I had to remove everything from my pockets, which of course included my wallet. I put my wallet in the web pocket of my computer backpack. When it arrived at the other end of the x-ray machine, there was no wallet in the web pocket of my computer backpack. I tried for two minutes to get someone’s attention. I haven’t been this ignored since I tried to get Taylor Swift’s attention. If I had spotted a terrorist, by the time I got TSA’s attention, the terrorist would have been at 30,000 feet. I was starting to get desperate when I looked down and found my wallet in the web pocket of my computer backpack. I don’t think I ever realized that my computer backpack had two web pockets before today.

According to the flight tracker, the tail of the airplane is over El Paso and the nose of the airplane is approaching the border of New Mexico and Arizona. I am flying business class in a 777-300. My first reaction was these seats are really neat and they are. But they have several short comings. There is four across seating and all the seats are in a shell, so that you can recline the seats to full flat without invading anyone else’s space. The seats are all angled at about 45 degrees. The two window seats face the window. The two middle seats are both angled toward the center of the plane. Good luck for couples. The middle seats have half a wall between them. And if you have one child, one of you is going to enter his/her seat from a different isle than your own seat. And those in the same isle, are facing away from each other. Also, I have a window seat in name only. When my (fully padded) seatbelt is buckled, I can’t reach the window. I’m about as close to the window as the person in coach sitting in the seat next to the window seat.

There are some good thing of course. These are eight way power seats. The back of the seat move back and down (all one motion) to a lay flat position. The seat moves forward and back and the foot rest moves up for that lay flat position. The entire seat also goes up and down, but only the pilot and co-pilot can control that. There is also an entertainment system with noise cancelling headphones (the noise cancelling works very well. There is a 115 volt power outlet where you can easily reach it. This would be a first class seat in any other domestic jet (in fact, except for the angling of the seats, it is very similar to the first class seat of the 787 I flew in in April. All in all, a very enjoyable seat, as long as you are flying solo.

Well, my plan for proof reading this during the flight went out the window when I decided to watch the latest Jason Bourne movie. At any rate, the tail of the plane just passed Phoenix and the noise of the plane is over the Arizona/California border. We are about forty minutes from landing, so I am going to shut down now and look forward to getting home.

After we land I pick up my luggage and head over to the Super Shuttle sign. I had to wait about thirty minutes for the Super Shuttle van to pick me up (about the same time I would have to wait for the FlyAway bus). But at least the person there was able to give me this information. That was the problem with Prime Time, I waited one hour with no information on the ETA. I was the only one in the van, so I was the first (and last) person dropped off.

All in all a very enjoyable cruise. No complaints. My idea of just walking around didn’t work out too well, but the taxi tours (the first time I have done this) worked out great. Though most of my cruises have been with Royal Caribbean, and I have enjoyed them, Royal Caribbean seems to have forgotten that it is known for its service. I have also cruised with Carnival a lot, but I like to take longer cruises and Carnival has very limited choices that exceed eight nights. Given my experience with NCL, I may start cruising more often with NCL. Still, even though I am comfortable with Freestyle dining, I prefer traditional two seating dining.

I have two more cruises booked, both on Princess. But I definitely will be booking another NCL cruise. First of all, I want to go to NCL’s private island, Great Stirrup Island. Also, I am now only seven points away from being Platinum on NCL, which is their top loyalty tier. After that, who knows? More NCL cruises are likely. But there are also three other cruise lines I have not tried yet. I still want to try Celebrity, Holland America, and Costa.

And so, as soon as I sort my pictures I’ll post this review. Hopefully some of the readers will get some useful information out of it and hopefully all of the readers will enjoy it.

For those that are interested in these things, this review is about 22 and one half pages long (as typed) and contains more than 13,500 words. I took about 2,200 photographs, including over 600 in the Panama Canal. I will post some of the photographs with the review and will provide links to more of the photographs (not all 2,200 photographs) and will provide links to the short videos I also shot (most are about twenty to thirty seconds long).

If you want to see the pictures, click on the following link which will take you to the same review, with all the above listed photographs and videos.

http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2439655
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Cabin Review

Penthouse with Large Balcony
Cabin SE 9500
Fantastic cabin for the Panama Canal because of its forward facing balcony. The room is roomy (it is a full suit) and the balcony is big (I'm guessing 12' wide and 18' deep, 6' of which is covered). Has his and her safes.
Deck 10 Inside Cabins, Balcony Cabins, Suite Cabins

Port & Shore Excursion Reviews